Feeding your horse while away from home and on transit can pose some challenges. This scenario is especially true for horse owners and their furry pals joining competitions for the first time. For one, the new environment may cause discomfort for the horse, affecting its appetite and digestion. Moreover, some horses are sensitive to changes in smells and flavours, and food and water coming from the competition site may be too different from what they’re used to consuming at home.
Because of these challenges, you’ll need to prepare ahead of time and create your horse’s meal and feeding plan. For example, you can consult your equine dietitian or use special online tools to help horse owners, such as Mad Barn, make a personalized diet plan. This way, you can avoid any adverse changes in feeding and appetite, behaviour, temperament, and energy levels. You can also help your horse avoid stomach issues and other ailments which can be detrimental to its performance.
If you’d like some tips on how to feed your horse correctly during competitions, consider the following points:
- Monitor Caloric Intake
Your horse may engage in more physical activity during competitions, affecting its behaviour and appetite. However, while your horse may use more energy, it’s essential to keep the caloric intake at regulated levels. Feeding your horse more calories than required can cause weight gain, stomach upset, and lethargy, while giving it too little food may weaken its bones and muscles.
With this in mind, you’ll need to monitor your horse’s caloric intake to ensure that it’s getting the right amount of nutrition it requires to function optimally. For instance, you’ll need to ensure that it consumes 1.5% of its body weight in forage. Give no more than two kilograms of food per feeding to keep meal sizes more manageable for digestion. Then, you can divide the rations into smaller portions if the horse displays any signs of distress to avoid stomach upset.
- Consider Your Horse’s Temperament
Like humans, your horse’s health and functioning are also affected by its natural character and temperament. For instance, some horses are naturally withdrawn, less energetic, and non-sociable. Meanwhile, other horses can be more excitable and fussier than others. These differences in demeanour can help owners determine the best way to feed their horses and care for their well-being.
While food can’t change your horse’s temperament, the quality of nutrition and your feeding strategy can affect its behaviour in specific ways. For example, in the case of horses with an aggressive or excitable character, equine experts advise against giving feeds high in grain, as the added sugar and starch can make them grow more restless. Instead, you can help them feel full and content without being high-strung with food rich in healthy fats and fibre.
Contrariwise, you can help your less-energetic horse build more enthusiasm and motivation for intense tasks such as show-jumping by giving it food items or occasional treats that release energy fast, such as cereal-based feeds.
- Follow Recommended Macronutrient Levels
Performing horses may require a different set of macronutrients to help its body cope with physically-demanding tasks involved in competitions. For instance, you may need to incorporate more protein sources for your horse to help it strengthen its muscles and recover from physical exertion faster. On the other hand, you’ll also need specific vitamins and minerals to boost energy and protect the mane and hoof quality.
It’s essential to keep track of your racehorse’s macronutrient intake, as it’s common for animals to receive less nourishment when owners attempt to control their calorie consumption. To attain balance, you may also need to add supplements to your horse’s diet as prescribed by your veterinarian or equine nutritionist.
- Prevent Dehydration
Horses that participate in competitive sports such as horse racing have an increased need for hydration. To ensure optimal performance and prevent dehydration, you’ll need to supply their water with electrolytes, salt, and potassium. Rehydration also allows your horses to recover from physical exertion fully, so you must provide them with sufficient amounts of fresh, clean drinking water at the right time.
Following the instructions above can help your horse feel more at ease eating in an environment different from what it’s used to. However, some horses can get fussy, especially if they notice changes in the smell and flavour of their food and drink. If this happens, you can consider adding flavours to your horse’s water for a period until it gets used to the taste. You can then incorporate the flavour into the water from the competition site to make it easier for your horse to drink.
Moreover, you may also need to consider bringing your forage and other food items that your horse enjoys. Doing so will help you prevent feeding and stomach issues and ensure that the horse will eat enough to feel energized for the event.