It's almost the middle of show season and after months of preparation, training and schooling, horses are expected to be at their best and perform unconditionally. Many horse owners are quick (and excited!) to purchase new tack and equipment, new show clothing, take extra lessons and even switch up their feeds to get the extra edge. However, no matter how good you and your horse look on the outside, it's really all about what is going on inside that will give you the competitive advantage and performance you are hoping for.
Good Nutrition starts with the basics: good to excellent quality forage (chosen specifically for your horse's needs), quality clean water, salt and essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, carbs).
[Wait! Wait! Don't Go! Ok - now at this point I am sure many of you will stop reading here because "you know" all this stuff, or, you may be thinking "I don't need to know this ..." I am amazed at how many riders and owners neglect the "bare bone essentials" when it comes to feeding their horses yet expect top results from them! Whether you are a backyard owner or a seasoned competitor, do your horse a favour and read on to be sure you aren't missing anything (just in case)....]
Quality forages generally include hay and pasture. Some of the factors affecting quality include maturity, seasons, fertilization, methods of harvesting, weed content, leaf content in pastures and hay. Besides a visual test, always have your hay tested to get the nutrient composition so you know that you are feeding the right type of hay to your horse's needs. (Email me if you are not sure about testing your hay). Quality clean water should always be available for your horse and should be clear of algae and bacteria, excessive minerals (iron, magnesium, chlorine) and have no unpleasant odour or taste. Expect horses to drink significantly more in the warmer/hotter seasons. Dehydration is common and will cause sluggish performance, tying up, colic thumps, and even death. Heat stressed horses may lose essential electrolytes such as Calcium, Magnesium, Chloride, Sodium and Potassium. Providing a consistent supply of water, salt and an electrolyte supplementation if necessary will help your horse perform it's best.
Salt should be available free choice at all times and everyday. Choose plain white salt that is non-mineralized for best results in either block form or loose (not the blue or brown blocks). A horse will typically eat 2-3 tablespoons a day; even more if working. Last but not least balance your hay to the nutrient requirements for your horse (non-working, working, breeding, etc.). Additional protein and calories may be required if you are working your horse hard. Otherwise a good vitamin mineral supplement may be chosen to compliment your forage and provide your horse with a well balanced diet. Every supplement is manufactured differently so don't assume they are all the same. By reading the analysis and plugging it into the Feed My Horse Equine Nutrition Software (see link below), you can quickly determine which supplement is best.
Unless you are in some parts of mid/western Canada, ALL HORSES REQUIRE SELENIUM SUPPLEMENTATION. This may be over and above what your concentrate feeds supply. If you are not sure if your horse is getting enough consult your vet, an equine nutritionist or use the Feed My Horse Software (www.feedmyhorse.ca). Selenium deficiencies can make your horse susceptible to muscle weakness, difficulty moving, respiratory distress and affect immunity. Always calculate the amount of selenium the horse is getting from all feed sources before supplementing as too much can be harmful.
Other factors to consider that would affect "Basic Nutrition" would be the horse's health - does your horse have a chronic condition that needs extra consideration? Also, what about stress? Showing, trailering, nervousness and even rider irritability can affect performance and nutritional needs. Whether you are riding for fun or for competition, take the time to "check in" and review your horse's nutrition program on a regular basis (ie seasonally). Want to improve your horse's program? Have questions? Want better results from your horse? Feel free to send me an email and let's start the conversation!
Jean Klosowicz, Equine Nutrition Consultant
Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc.
Bruce Mines, Ontario, Canada