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Published on 13/12/2016
Feeding fibre for performance – written by Jeremy Scott
For a racehorse to perform to its ability its needs the right type of fuel and in the right quantities to allow for maximum effort.
In its natural state a horse, like most herbivores, will eat little and often, constantly nibbling away.
However, when a horse is in training, the energy intake, fed in the form of carbohydrates (grain) will increase and this will be fed as part of its daily ration – in our case four times a day at 6am, 12.30pm, 5pm and 11pm.
As a horse is a natural trickle feeder, it still needs to have constant access to roughage (hay/haylage) in order to keep its gut healthy.
At Holworthy Farm, our aim is to reproduce the way a horse naturally feeds are far as possible, while at the same upping the energy intake, so they are fed ad lib haylage or hay, depending on the horse.
A common problem in racing is that horses do not consume enough calories to maintain their optimal weight and they will self-limit their intake. With rigorous training schedules and the fact that some thoroughbreds expend a lot of nervous energy it can be a challenge to provide adequate nutrition to horses in training.
The key, and why feeding horses is so often referred to as an art, is getting the balance right between the energy you feed and the roughage. By feeding our horses four times they are presented with smaller meals and this can act as a stimulus and encourage them to eat.
Also, by keeping their stomachs healthy the number of horses with stomach ulcers is reduced. That said, we do still have horses that have this problem. We scoped a few recently choosing those that we felt weren’t doing as well on their feed and others that had a nervous disposition. Interestingly, we had more cases of ulcers in the horses with a more nervous disposition than the fussy eaters.
Giving horses high energy feed on an empty stomach can increase the risk of stomach ulcers so in order to reduce this from occurring we will mix alfalfa with their first morning feed as an additional source of fibre. This will reduce the effect of acid on an empty stomach. Many racing yards will give a hard feed in the morning, then exercise and then provide roughage but we do not feel this is conducive to keeping them healthy inside.
We also adapt the feed according to the horse and overfeeding is almost worse than underfeeding because of the various associated problems. When we trained County Derry he would tie up so we worked closely with Spillers horse feeds to devise a diet that was high fibre (roughage) low starch (carbohydrate) as the grain increased his chance of tying up.