Francis Houghton 18



Feeding management affects a number of different aspects of equine health and performance, including gastrointestinal function, hydration, electrolyte status, and substrate selection during exercise. The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the important strategies that could ensure that you have a successful season. Feeding performance horses can be a challenge. Requirements for individual horses will vary according to factors such as body weight, condition score, discipline, environmental factors and rider ability. However, the common factor for all performance horses is that they will train and compete under a variety of stressful conditions that can adversely affect health and performance. For these reasons there are important feeding and management strategies that can be implemented, which are of critical importance to reduce many of these problems, whatever level a horse is competing at.


Fibre (hay, haylage and pasture) should ALWAYS form the basis of any horse’s diet. It is often overlooked and a lack of fibre will increase the incidence of gastric ulcers, wood chewing, loose droppings, loss of weight and irritability. Additionally, fibre in the hindgut traps water and electrolytes and helps to combat dehydration and research shows that diets high in fibre resulted in increased water uptake.

It is currently recommended that performance horses should receive a minimum of 1% of their bodyweight (BW) per day of forage to satisfy its requirements for long stem fibre and to minimize digestive upsets, although ideally forage intake should be in the region of 1.5 - 2% of BW and more if you are feeding haylage. For example, a 550kg horse should ideally be fed 8.25 – 11kg of hay and at least 11kg haylage per day.

Many feed companies offer a forage analysis service for a small fee and this enables a more accurate feeding programme to be devised based on the nutrient value of the forage. I also recommend that for a period of time that you weigh your forage and also any leftovers to establish what your horse’s actual fibre intake is. This can often help to answer any problems related to loss of body condition or loose droppings.

                                       PERFORMANCE HORSES, TRAVELLING AND GASTRIC ULCERS

RiteTrac SmallBucket smallTravelling and competing can mean that horses go for prolonged periods without anything to eat. This leads to a build up in gastric acid in the stomach and increases the incidence of gastric ulcers, which will reduce performance. When travelling and competing allow your horse to regularly graze or pick at a haynet to stimulate saliva production. Alfalfa is a natural antacid, so frequent bites of alfalfa-chaff will help to neutralize excess stomach, especially if fed 15 minutes before riding.

If gastric ulcers are a concern ask a Saracen Nutritionist about the use of equine digestive supplements such as KERx Rite-Trac™.



Regularly monitor and record your horse’s body weight and body condition score. This enables you to accurately calculate your horse’s nutritional requirements for performance and can help you to achieve optimum competition body weight or ‘fighting weight’.


There is now and increasing number of performance diets available on the market to meet the nutritional requirements for horses performing in specific disciplines. For power-based exercise such as show jumping and dressage, feeds will often need to have more emphasis on providing energy from starch based ingredients, such as oats and barley etc. From the Saracen range Competition-Fit Mix is the ideal feed in these situations. For stamina work such as endurance or eventing, there will be a greater reliance on digestible fibre sources, such as soya hulls and sugar beet and oil, balanced with enough cereal and starch to ensure that muscle glycogen stores remain ‘topped’ up. From the Saracen range Enduro-Performance is the ideal feed in these situations.

Feeds are formulated to provide your horse with optimum nutrition when fed at the recommended quantity. Make sure that you weigh your feed to ensure correct intakes; don’t just assume that one scoop hold 1kg of feed, as this is often not the case! If you need to feed below the manufactures recommended levels to help manage body condition use a feed balancer, for example Competition-Fit Balancer to provide adequate levels of vitamins, minerals, quality protein and important antioxidants such as vitamin E and Selenium.

One of the most frequently asked questions concerns the timing of feeding the performance hors. Concentrate feeding alone should be avoided for at least three hours before heavy exercise to allow for increases in blood glucose and insulin to return to baseline levels. Feeding small amounts of forage or limited grazing time prior to exercise will moderate body weight and does not appear to have any other adverse effects to performance and can in fact help to support optimal digestive health when competing. 


Before you take your horse away from home make sure he is not likely to become fussy about the water that he drinks!! This is a more serious position to be in than arriving at an event with a horse that decides not to eat. Lack of water intake will rapidly dehydrate your horse and severely effect health and performance. Start practicing at home by encouraging your horse to drink flavoured water, for example, flavoured with apple juice or mint. Alternatively make sure that you have enough water containers on board to take enough ‘home’ water with you. If your horse is still reluctant to drink while travelling and competing then offering a soaked product, such as Saracen Re-Covery Mash, is advised. These usually do the trick!

Re Covery Mash RenderRe-Covery Mash is highly palatable, versatile and convenient to use in many different situations. It contains a blend of ’Super-Fibres’, known for their superior digestibility and provision of non-heating calories, plus a source of electrolytes to aid re-hydration. The super fibres help to ‘top up’ the performance horse’s fibre and water intake and, together with electrolytes, helps to maintain optimum hydration and thirst response, during periods of travel, warm weather, sweating, intensive training and exertion. Re-Covery Mash also includes a live yeast to support gut flora and stabilise the pH of the gut, as well as vitamin E to support normal muscle function and recovery. Saracen Re-Covery Mash should be soaked before use and will take 5 – 10 minutes to soak in warm water, or 15 – 20 minutes in cold water. The amount of water added will depend upon the individual horse and the reason for feeding the mash.


Apart from water and energy, salt is the only mineral that horses have an undisputable appetite for. In addition to a correct electrolyte supplementation programme, a salt lick should be provided and at least 2 - 3 ounces of salt added to the feed per day.


KER RestoreSR

Electrolytes are a critical component of a performance horse’s nutritional programme since they play an important role in maintaining osmotic pressure, fluid balance, and nerve and muscle activity. During exercise, sodium, potassium and chloride are lost in large quantities through sweat. Loss of these electrolytes causes fatigue and muscle weakness and decreases the thirst response to dehydration. It is vitally important that performance horses begin competition with optimal levels of fluids and electrolytes in their bodies and that these are replaced throughout prolonged exercise with the use of supplements such as KERx Restore SR.


Electrolytes are often misused and it is essential that horses have access to unsupplemented drinking water when administering electrolytes. If the horse refuses to drink, do not administer an electrolyte paste or supplement as this can make the horse more dehydrated. It is well worth a phone call to a nutritionist to advise on a correct electrolyte programme to ensure optimum performance and to reduce the occurrence of problems such as premature fatigue or muscle issues, such as 'Tying-Up'.


Travelling, even short journeys cause all horses some degree of stress, even in well-seasoned travellers that do not display any signs. After travel muscle enzymes are often raised, which can result in muscle soreness, and stress hormone levels are also often elevated which can have a negative effect on the horses immune function. To help combat this for horses that travel and compete often we suggest adding additional anti-oxidants into the ration. Anti-oxidants help to maintain immune function and also support the cardiovascular, circulatory, neuromuscular, and reproductive systems.

Nano E2 NEW small

Horses that regularly travel can use up their stores of anti-oxidants relatively quickly during travel and recovery, and it can take a long time to build these levels back up again, which can result in a lack of energy and decrease in performance levels. The most important anti- oxidants in the horse’s body are vitamin E and selenium. As compound fees contain a good level of selenium we would not advice adding additional selenium into the ration as horses can easily suffer from selenium toxicity. However we often suggest adding an additional vitamin E supplement into the ration, as, unlike selenium, there is no known toxicity level for vitamin E in horses, and horses that regular travel often benefit from additional vitamin E supplementation.

When supplementing with Vitamin E look for a natural form, such as KERx Nano-E. Many vitamin E supplements on the market are use synthetic vitamin E. Natural vitamin E supplements are more easily taken up by the horse and is also retained in the tissues for longer than synthetic vitamin E. KERx Nano-E can be used on a strategic basis for a couple of days before travel, the day of travel, and for a couple of days after travel. This will help to boost the anti-oxidant levels in the body, helping the horse to recover from travelling quicker and helping to support optimal energy levels.


Finally, whatever level it is that you are competing at, remember, WATER, FORAGE, TRICKLE FEEDING, WEIGHTS and don’t hesitate to ask for advice from your vet or nutritionist.

Need Guidance?

For a personalised feeding plan for your performance horse, please complete our simple and free Feed Advice Form. Alternatively, if you would prefer to speak to one of our qualified nutritionists for some immediate advice, please call our feed advice line on 01622 718487