Thursday 25th of November 2021
Horse Nutrition

Common issues when feeding after a holiday/rest period

This month’s expert horse nutrition advice focusses on the best ways to start gearing our horses up for the competition season after the winter break.


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Part of preparing our horses for the competition season is to evaluate our horse’s current health and decide the future goal.  This evaluation requires establishing bodyweight, fat score and condition, then comparing this with a theoretical ideal, or, how we would like our horses to develop for the type of competitions they are aiming for over the next three months.

Dodson & Horrell provides a useful guide to help make general assessments on equine body fat score and bodyweight, something which we should regularly evaluate in order to maintain the best condition and set goals for where we want to be in relation to workload.

Once we have this goal, we can then work backwards from our competition goals of a fit and healthy horse ready to perform.

Using a scheduled work plan we can make dietary changes in line with this work load. The aim is to produce a fit healthy horse with a fat score of 2.5- 3 out 5 that can then perform at an optimum level. This fat score applies to showjumpers, eventers, and dressage and show horses.

The aim is to muscle up and not fattened up. Knowing the actual daily work load for your horse enables you to choose a suitable feed for both fat score and activity level. As every horse is different in terms of how they carry weight and react to different situations, most compound horse feeds are now formulated for specific work load, such as light or medium work.

Horses in rugs on a frosty morning

Most important is that all dietary changes, including changes form grass to preserved forages like hay or haylage are completed slowly over a minimum of 0 – 14 days.

This is important to allow the microorganisms in the gut to adapt and to avoid diet related problems. If work load changes for an uncontrolled reason such as an injury, simply reducing the current concentrate feed and adding in a feed balancer for vital nutrients is advised.

If the rest period is just for a couple of weeks, then, as the horse returns to work you can start to slowly increase your usual concentrate feed back to recommended rates and phase out the balancer.

You may find a winter break or period of low level work, will not make a big difference to many low level competition horses, however it is important to reassess and adapt the diet to their new regime. It is however more significant with horses in hard work and these horses will require specialist advice.

Generally forages (preserved and grazing) intake will remain the same and are fed at 2% – 2.5 % of bodyweight. Adjust the amount and type of concentrate feed according to bodyweight, fat score and muscle development. Reputable feed companies all offer specific feeding advice, which can help you develop a plan and give expert advice on the specialised balanced feeds, ideally formulated for specific workloads when fed at balanced formulated intakes.

Written by Pauline Smith (Senior Nutritional Advisor at Dodson & Horrell) 

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