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Feeding for Spunk without the Punk!!!

Feeding for Spunk
without turning your horse into a Punk!

by Dr. Nerida Richards

Feeding a horse to achieve top level performances is a balancing act! On the one hand you need to feed enough for your horse to feel good and perform at its best, on the other hand if you feed too much your horse can become full of itself and ruin performances with bad behaviour!

Horses required to perform skill work such as dressage, showjumping, barrel racing or cutting, where control and accuracy are everything must be fed enough to maintain expression, speed, strength and agility without causing bad behaviour.  And this is where it gets tricky ... how do you feed these horses so they keep an edge about them without compromising their behaviour and accuracy?

No easy answer

Unfortunately there is no easy answer AND a lot of it depends on the horse’s level of education and skill of the rider. What we do know however is that what and how much you feed will usually show up to some degree in how your horse behaves and performs.

Energy In – Energy Out

When you feed your horse energy (calories) your horse MUST use them for something. Think about it this way, if a teenager has moved out of home and has a job earning $400/week they would spend their money on something like the following:

1.      Essentials for survival – things like bread, vegemite and internet access

2.      Semi-essential items – fuel, rent, electricity, insurance etc

3.      Savings

4.      Partying!

Now imagine that food to your horse is like money to this teenager. Your horse uses its feed for:

1.      Essentials for survival – maintaining body heat, breathing, moving around, digesting feed and generally staying alive.

2.      Semi-essential items – working for you and some play

3.      Savings – if you feed your horse too much your horse may store it as body fat and gain weight. This is often what the quieter, easy keeper type horses will do with excess calories.

4.      Partying – either in the form of play when not being ridden (quite ok) or in the form of misbehaviour when being ridden (not ok). This is often what highly strung hard keepers will do with excess calories.

So the trick is to feed your horse just enough to ‘survive’ in a very healthy state and to do the work you need him or her to do WITHOUT giving the excess that they will either save or use to party.

Knowing your horse

Achieving this balancing act really comes down to you knowing your horse; knowing how much feed it needs to maintain the bodyweight and condition score you want; knowing which feeds generally keep it energetic and eager to work, but calm; knowing which feeds give it a bit too much spunk; and knowing how your horse generally behaves at competitions.

Achieving the balance

Here are a few hints and tips to help you achieve the balance:

1.      Choose suitable feeds for your horse - grains and grain based feeds can make a horse more energetic than fibre based feeds and oils. Try different combinations of grain based and fibre based feeds depending on whether your horse needs more or less of an edge.
If you are looking for a non-grain feed, beware of feeds that claim they contain no grain as many of these are based on grain by-products like bran and pollard.

2.      Don’t increase feed before a competition - Resist the temptation to feed your horse more the night before an event to ‘give it an edge’. Just being at the competition will usually be enough to give your horse some edge. Feeding them more the night before a competition might just give them enough to start a bit of a party with!

3.      Constantly adjust the diet to suit workload - adjust your horse’s feeds daily if you have to, to keep feed intake in line with workload. If they have a day off work or a day with only a light workload, you may need to reduce or even completely remove high energy feeds (like grains, high energy fibres or complete feeds) so that your horse doesn’t save them (i.e. put on weight) or throw you a little party the next time you ride. In the reverse, if your horse is feeling flat, you may need to feed it a little more (just make sure it isn’t feeling flat because it is sick or in pain).
Don’t be afraid to adjust your horse’s diet, but have some guidelines so that you know you aren’t unbalancing the diet when you do adjust it.

4.      Feed a balanced diet – feeding a diet with missing or unbalanced nutrients may contribute to bad behaviour. Making sure the diet is balanced removes this factor.

5.      Have your horse fit and well educated – A horse is not going to perform at its best with that edge to its performance judges are looking for if it isn’t fit or educated enough to do the work. Conditioning your horses lungs, bones, muscles, tendons and mind for the work it is doing is JUST as important as feeding the right diet. You can’t have one without the other; it just isn’t going to work.  To quote Elizabeth Owens “The one essential ingredient missing from most horses diets is work”.

Practice, practice, practice

The only way you are going to fine tune your horse’s diet so you can get spunk without turning your horse into a punk is to experiment with different things and practice! Don’t be afraid to try new feeds or to adjust your horse’s diet daily according to workload.

Make only one change at a time and wait to see the effect it has on your horse. You will soon find your own horses patterns of behaviour according to what you feed and can use those patterns to ensure you do get their best performance possible on competition days.

 If you would like help with developing a balanced diet that can be adjusted daily according to your horses workload and behaviour contact Pryde’s Pty Ltd – www.prydes.com.au

For more information go to Dr Nerida Richards web site

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