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Posted on Mar 22, 2016 in Articles, Competing, Health & nutrition

Feeding the competition horse

Feeding the competition horse


The nutrient requirements for competition horses vary according to the demands that are put on them with the work that they are doing, whether they are eventers, hunters, show-jumpers, polo ponies, endurance horses, dressage or driving horses.


Optimising a horse’s ration will allow them to perform to their maximum potential. For example, minor deficiencies in micronutrient supply can result in a reduced performance. Therefore, fine tuning the diet of hard working competition horses can be complex as the requirements for water, energy, protein, minerals, some trace elements and vitamins, are increased.




It is important to bear in mind the design of a horse’s digestive system when formulating a competition horse’s diet, whatever the level. Horses competing in most sports benefit from a diet consisting of at least 70% of their daily feed intake as fibre and they should never receive less than 1% of their bodyweight daily (even on a restricted forage diet). A regime of ad-lib forage and little and often feeding of low sugar and starch diets are best in most cases.


Digestible fibre (structural carbohydrates) such as hay, haylage, grass etc. are fermented in the hindgut by microbes to produce energy sources called volatile fatty acids (VFAs). The environment of the hindgut is particularly crucial, not only to the function and efficiency of the horse’s digestive system but also their health and performance. This can be supported by high forage diets, the provision of vitamins and minerals and the inclusion of yeast probiotics and Mannan Oligosaccharide (MOS) prebiotics.


TopSpec feed balancers such as TopSpec Comprehensive Feed Balancer and TopSpec Joint Feed Balancer work very well to optimise consumption and utilisation of forage and keep quantities of hard feed low.

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‘Hard feed’


Hard working horses have an increased requirement for energy to fuel their work and for protein to allow for muscle development and repair.


All horses need a balance of energy sources but how much they need, in the form of fibre and oil, compared to sugars and starch (non-structural carbohydrates), will depend on the type of work they are doing, in which discipline, and their temperament.


Recent research has demonstrated that horses should receive no more than 1g starch per meal/kg bodyweight. This means restricting the level of cereal-grains used in hard feed. For example, a maximum of approximately 1 round Stubbs scoop of oats per feed for a 500kg horse.


If anymore is fed, excess starch, which is undigested in the small intestine, will pass to the hindgut and disrupt the normal bacterial balance which can lead to problems such as ‘tying-up,’ colic, diarrhoea etc.


Problems with behaviour can also arise from high sugar and starch diets. TopSpec feed balancers are all low in sugar and starch and cereal-grain free and are therefore ‘Non-Heating.’


TopSpec Performance Cubes are an ideal blend to combine with TopSpec Feed Balancers for competition horses that require a ration low in sugar and starch and cereal-grain-free. For example, a 500kg horse prone to becoming ‘fizzy’ could be fed on a ration of ad-lib hay with two feeds per day consisting of 250g TopSpec Comprehensive Feed Balancer, 300g TopChop Lite and up to 2kg TopSpec Performance Cubes (fed according to condition).


TopSpec Turbo Flakes are a higher starch product suitable for horses that require more ‘fast release’ energy. For example, a 500kg horse competing in show-jumping with a more laid back temperament and some signs of stiffness, could have ad-lib hay/haylage with two feeds per day consisting of 250g TopSpec Joint Feed Balancer, 300g TopChop Grass and up to 1.3kg TopSpec Turbo Flakes (fed according to condition).


In competition horses, this increased need for macro-nutrients (protein and energy) is accompanied by a higher demand for micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).


There is a significant requirement for vitamin E and selenium (anti-oxidants) and these have an important role in muscle metabolism. The demand for vitamin E and selenium is further increased by high oil diets.


TopSpec Comprehensive Feed Balancer or TopSpec Joint Feed Balancer provides optimum levels of vitamins and minerals, including high levels of vitamin E and selenium, to balance the diet and support horses in hard work. The high quality protein included promotes muscle development and topline.




Sweating during exercise, leads to losses of electrolytes. In most cases, except for endurance horses or horses with a reduced forage intake, losses are met by an appropriate diet. For good –doers, where blends or compound feeds are restricted, additional salt would be required. It is best to speak to a nutritionist for your own horse’s specific requirements.


By Anna Welch, BVSc, BSc, MRCVS. Veterinary Nutritionist, TopSpec

TopSpec can be contacted, free of charge, on their Multiple-Award-Winning-Helpline Tel: 01845-565030

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