Thursday 1st of June 2023
Horse Nutrition

Feeding the Competition Horse

An important part of preparing for competition is ensuring that your horse’s diet is appropriate for the level and type of work being done, providing sufficient calorie, protein and micronutrient levels.

Once this is established, contrary to popular belief, there is no need to change the horse’s diet on the days leading up to competition. In actual fact a sudden change in diet may adversely affect performance levels due to upsetting the delicate microflora of the gut responsible for optimum nutrient digestion.


© Charles Sainsbury-Plaice

Another common misconception is that changing the diet to a carbohydrate rich feed 2-3 days prior to an event will ensure that the horse has energy stored ready to unleash and perform at his peak. To some extent this is true with carbohydrates providing an essential source of energy, however, unlike in human athletes, carbohydrate loading in the horse is futile if the regular diet already supplies moderate amounts as muscle glycogen levels will already be near maximum storage capacity. 

Although disruptions to your horse’s routine should ideally be kept to a minimum it is inevitable that some changes in routine will occur on the day of competition. Travelling can be stressful for the horse and they should not be fed a hard feed just before loading, therefore ensure that they have their breakfast nice and early but that forage is readily available before, during and after travel to maintain gut health. Similarly water should also be available right up until loading and depending on the length of the journey offered at regular intervals, particularly when travelling in warm weather.

© Charles Sainsbury-Plaice

It is also important that you offer forage and water regularly throughout the day and between classes to keep the gut moving and help prevent dehydration. It is well known that horses can be fussy when drinking away from home, so where possible try taking some water from home with you to encourage drinking. If they are being really fussy use apples in the bucket to encourage ‘bobbing’ and increased water consumption or provide a very sloppy unmolassed sugarbeet feed, whatever works to keep your horse drinking!

© Charles Sainsbury-Plaice

If your horse has been sweating they will require electrolyte supplementation after competing, for example for light sweating (e.g. a damp patch under the saddle) table salt in the feed bucket or a salt lick in the stable should be sufficient, however if your horse is heavily sweating then providing a specific electrolyte supplement such as Dodson & Horrell’s Electrolytes for the following 2-3 days will aid recovery post performance. Remember that travelling also results in electrolyte losses which need to be replenished!

If you are only away for one day competing, it is usually best to wait until the horse returns home to give his evening feed, alongside free access to forage and water.

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