By Cam Price, co-founder of Keyflow® feeds @keyflow
With the new season getting underway, it is a great time take a closer look at what and how you’re feeding your horse. Small refinements and tweaks to your feeding strategy can produce some excellent rewards, particularly as you put more pressure on your horses throughout the year.
Nutrition, good or bad can have a big impact on performance, some of the key factors nutrition directly effects are as follows:
- Strength – horses are made predominantly from protein. Protein is provided in the diet and the type and quality of the protein can effect how strong they become.
- Soundness – splints, bone injuries, joint soreness, stiffness.
- Temperament – in dressage in particular you need your horse to have a level head but still have the energy and fitness to perform across country
- Stamina – horses use multiple energy sources that they draw from throughout an event
- Energy Output – specific nutrition can assist and increase the level of energy a horse is able to output
- Recovery – being able to come back and jump clear on the third day of a three day can be the difference between winning and losing.
Making smart decisions when choosing what and how to feed will give you a strong competitive advantage. Here’s some performance feeding best practices to help you feed smart.
For your horse to get the most out of every mouthful of feed you give him, a great place to start is to strip things back and simplify. With an ever increasing amount of feed products on the market it is only too tempting to keep on adding products on top of each other for different desired results. Often when recommending diets to clients I find that we need to strip the diet back and build the foundations (or base) correctly and usually this means simplifying.
Part of this simple approach means know where your vit’s and mins are coming from. Vitamins and minerals are very complex in how they interact with each other. Sometimes providing too much of one, will inhibit the uptake of another and so on. Heres a graph that shows which vits and mins interact with others, where each line crosses another, there is an interaction:
Don’t Double Up – As you can see, it’s complex. Don’t be tempted to add a multi vitamin or mineral supplement or balancer on top of a ration that is already fortified with vits and mins. Check that other specialist supplements you are feeding do not contain a ‘broad spectrum’ of vits and mins. Don’t feed a chaff that is fortified along with your competition feed (fortified or ‘complete’ chaff/chops are becoming more and more common so read the label carefully). Let chaff be chaff – a fibre source.
Stay Within a Brand for Hard Feed – It is generally good practice to stay within a feed brand for your hard feed. i.e we at Keyflow often recommend that customers feed less then the normal feeding rate of Mark Todd Maestro, but they ’top up’ the protein, vitamins and minerals with Mark Todd Perfect Balance. We know this is OK because we know the exact formulation of both these feeds and they are fully compatible. We would however warn against using another brand of balancer with Maestro as we cannot guarantee there won’t be conflicts within the ration resulting in an unbalanced diet. There are some exceptions to this but it is a good, safe general principle to stick to.
2. You Get What You Pay For – Don’t Run a False Economy
Feed manufacturers run on tight margins- I know this. What it means is that when you buy a bag of cheap feed, that is what it will be. It is not possible to buy a good bag of feed cheaply because its not possible to make a good bag of feed cheaply. There is a vast difference in the cost of quality vs inferior ingredients, in particular protein/oil sources. Cheap and unbalanced protein sources are only partially utilised which can negatively effect muscle growth and repair, it is also difficult for horses to excrete unusable protein which compounds the problem. Often a sign of poor quality protein being fed is the smell of ammonia in a horses stable, in worst case scenarios it effects temperament and can cause sweating and shivering.
Less is More – Digestibility of feeds is a very important area. If you can feed less of a highly digestible feed, then you not only save money in the long run, but you also don’t overload the horses digestive tract with undigested material.
Here’s a quick list of processing methods in order of worst to best:
Raw Grains – Bad
Crushed, cracked or rolled grains – slightly better
Pellets or cubes – OK
Dry extruded – OK
Micronised – good
Steam Extruded – Very good
Generally speaking, the higher the digestibility, the higher the processing cost. This means a highly digestible feed will be more expensive but you can feed less, which is more. Less is more…
3. Feed as often as is practical but at least twice a day
Some feed twice a day, some feed five times a day. Just know that for your horse to get the most out of the nutrition you provide, feed as little and as often as possible.
4. Check and Correct The Magic Omega 3:6 Ratio
Grasses and herbage are naturally high in omega 3, cereal grains and many ingredients found in modern horse feeds are high in omega 6. Crucially, the oil that is added to feeds either by the manufacturer or by the rider is often very high in omega 6. It’s all about the ratio in the total ration and horses that have more omega 3 than omega 6 in the diet will have anti-inflammatory responses as opposed to inflammatory responses when it’s the other way around. The easy way to remember the bad one is to say – 6 sucks.
Below is a graph with some of the most commonly used oils and which category they fall into.
Check and correct the omega 3:6 ratio by adding one of the good oils above on top of the ration, but introduce it gradually.
Feed Oil for Energy – Oil is also a very effective slow release and cool energy source – for excitable types that are difficult to feed, try feeding a lower energy base feed and then increase the energy content by adding a good quality oil. Key-3 Oil is blended specifically for horses and is perfect to use in this way as many of the top eventers do already.
4. Fibre is King
Test your Hay – Making up approx 80% of their total diet, fibre should not be underestimated. If you have a consistent supply of hay or haylage, get it tested for nutrient value and mould spores. It costs about the same as a new pair of stirrups and will mean you have more knowledge about what your horses are receiving. If you buy in your hay, often the merchant or farmer will already have had the hay tested and you just need to ask for the results, then it’s free. Keyflow is about to set up a hay testing service on our website so make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter to find out when this is launched.
Monitor Your Horses Hay Intake and How Long it Lasts. Horse need to be chewing to produce saliva (unlike humans)). Saliva is alkaline and helps horse maintain a healthy stomach PH balance. If your horse isn’t chewing for extended periods of time then the stomach acid builds up which is the primary cause for stomach ulcers. There are several ways to slow a horse down when eating hay such as double hay netting. A great machine I saw recently was the Harmony Hay Feeder, a little pricy but a great concept http://harmonyfeeder.com/
Feed Hay and Hard Feed on the Ground – In the wild, horses eat with their heads at ground level and food matter is squeezed continuously up the oesophagus through a unique process called peristalsis. This means that a horses natural position for chewing it’s feed is when the head is at ground level. The nostrils drain naturally when in this position and importantly their jaw is aligned correctly for chewing. This means that if you force a horse to chew with his head up, the molars are slightly out of line which causes the hooks that you often have the dentist filing down.
Performance Feeding Best Practices Checklist
- Simplify your feeding – are you feeding a ‘confused’ diet
- Don’t double up – check that you aren’t feeding bit’s and minerals twice in the diet. Let chaff be chaff, check your chaff/chop isn’t fortified
- Generally stay with one manufacturer for hard feed
- Spend a little more on the products you buy – its a direct reflection of the quality and digestibility of the product in the bag
- Feed little and often
- Check and Correct the Omega 3:6 Ratio of your horses diet
- Use oil as a cool energy source for excitable horses
- Test your hay if it makes sense to do so or get test results off your merchant/farmer
- Ensure your horses have continuous access to forage so they chew as much as possible
- Feed hard feed and hay at ground level
If you would like a visit or a phone call from one of Keyflow’s nutrition experts to help you with your feeding this season simply contact us