By Gail Sramek BApplSc Agr –
The amount of time and the type of effort required when training and competing endurance horses is different from other disciplines. Horses are expected to cover distances that range from 40-160km in one day. Some events such as the Shahzada cover a five day period where horses travel 400km. This type of competition forms a strong bond between horse and rider during training and at these long gruelling competitions.
When we are formulating rations for endurance horses we need to look at their specific needs. Correctly fuelling the endurance horse and ensuring adequate protein, vitamins and minerals are provided will allow the horse to train and complete the competition with a good recovery.
Due to the length of competitions and training regimes endurance horses need to use a diverse range of energy sources to fuel the predominantly aerobic (slow) work they are doing. Aerobic energy is fuelled by glycogen and fat stores and circulating volatile fatty acids. Lactic acid is rarely a contributor to fatigue as it is recycled as an aerobic fuel source.
The following are ways we can fuel an endurance horse during training and competition:
1. Sugars and starches
Oils and high oil supplements are a favourable addition to an endurance horse’s diet and can be used in conjunction with grains or an alternative to grains to fuel the horse. Oils are broken down into triglycerides and stored in the muscle and fat tissues of the horse. This energy is a more concentrated, slow release energy that is ideal for horses travelling long distances at slow to moderate speeds. Oils don’t contain glucose (sugars or starches) so will not contribute to glucose swings or excitability and provide an alternative energy source to feeding grains.When an endurance horse is adapted to a ration higher in fats (we suggest feeding oil for at least eight weeks before competition), they become more efficient at using the oil as a fuel and sparing muscle glycogen (glucose). To be utilised correctly some carbohydrate should also be fed and we don’t suggest feeding more than 8% of oil in the total ration. Feeding oil with a favourable Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio, such as Performa 3 Oil can provide more benefits than just increased bloom and a shiny coat. Improved joint health, circulation and reduced inflammation can be obtained by Omega 3 supplementation if the Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio is out of balance.
3. Fibre and roughage
Roughage can come in forms of pasture, chaff, hay and more modern sources such as super fibres, beet pulp (SpeediBeet) and soybean hulls. Roughage is an important additive to any horse’s diet, especially the endurance horse.Roughage provides a major source of energy to the endurance horse. The horse does not have the enzymes to break down the strong bonds in fibre and they pass through the stomach and small intestine undigested. In the hindgut the fibre is fermented by millions of microbes that can break these strong bonds, making the energy available to the horse. The volatile fatty acids, which are the product of fibre digestion are absorbed into the bloodstream of the horse and sent to the liver or to the muscle where they can be stored and used as energy. Up to 50% of the energy used by the endurance horse in a ride may come from circulating fatty acids. Feeding super fibres such as SpeediBeet as part of the roughage component of the ration offer advantages to the endurance horse. Super fibres are well digested by the microbes in the hindgut increasing the generation of cool, slow release energy. Super fibres, as with all roughages can provide a valuable water reservoir in the hindgut, helping hydration.
Many endurance riders like to only feed grass hay. Feeding large amounts of lucerne hay during training can suppress the parathyroid gland function due to the high calcium content in lucerne. A role of the parathyroid gland is to control mobilisation of calcium stores from the bones and regulate blood calcium levels. By not feeding the calcium in excess during training and decreasing the amount of calcium fed for a short period prior to a long ride, the calcium stores in the bones can be mobilised, making the Calcium available to the horse during the ride. Low blood calcium levels may contribute to the ‘thumps’ and tying-up.
A common comment in endurance circles is that endurance horses need a low protein ration. Continued feeding of excessive levels of protein can be a problem if poor quality protein is fed. Additional heat is produced from the breakdown of the protein and the increased blood urea nitrogen needs to be excreted via the kidneys. Feeding a well profiled concentrate, such as Formula 3, that matches the protein and amino acid requirements of the horse aids in the efficient use of protein by the horse, minimising heat production and additional load on the kidneys.
Research has shown that when feeding ‘Good Quality Protein’, less needs to be fed, compared to feeding poor quality protein. A ‘Good Quality Protein’ will have the correct amount of protein, will contain the correct amount and level of amino acids and is well digested.
Once the primary protein needs have been delivered for maintenance the protein needed by an endurance horse, has two main functions, to build muscle and to help muscle recover and repair after training and competition. Mitavite feeds contain ‘Good Quality Protein’ to maximise the efficient use of the protein and amino acids for high performance.
Vitamins and Minerals
As the exercise levels of a horse increase so too does the need for additional vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Optimum, not maximum or minimum levels of nutrients need to be fed. Feeding too much of a nutrient can cause antagonism with other nutrients and can cause as many problems as not feeding enough of a nutrient. Feeding excess levels of Vitamin E may have an inhibitory effect on beta-carotene metabolism and Vitamin K metabolism. Providing minerals that are chelated and vitamins in their natural form increases bioavailability and absorption and these are found in Formula 3.
Imbalances in electrolytes can affect performance, feed intake, muscle and heart function and bring on fatigue sooner and are an important addition to an endurance horse’s diet. As horses lose electrolytes in their sweat it is important they are provided with adequate electrolytes each day in a well profiled feed. During competition and hard training session’s additional electrolyte intake may be needed, helping to keep horses well hydrated. Although our fathers and fathers before that liked to feed straight grains as the only hard feed to the horse, we have found that this does not provide a completely balanced ration. If time, curiosity and a thorough knowledge on nutrition allow, you can obtain analyses of the forage and grains you are feeding and balance out any deficiencies with a vitamin, mineral and protein supplement. Most of us don’t have the time or the interest to do this and find the easier way to feed a correctly balanced ration is to provide your horse with a well formulated concentrate and add in the correct levels of roughage.
Formula 3 is Mitavite feed of choice for Endurance horses, providing a well digested power and nutrient pack of energy, protein, chelated minerals, natural vitamins, anti-oxidants and electrolytes to provide the nutrients for elite performance. Performa 3 Oil and high oil energy supplements such as Power On can be added to compliment Formula 3 for cool, sustained energy in a highly digestible form. All that needs to be added is adequate roughage and additional electrolytes during competition.
To help you with your ration formulations we have detailed a broad guideline below feeding Formula 3, Power On, Performa 3 Oil and adequate roughage. These are broad guidelines and you will need to make adjustments depending on the response of your horses to the ration and your assessment of the horses.
The pre-competition diet is to be introduced to your horse approximately a week prior to a hard ride.
The training ration can be re-introduced two days prior to racing. Lucerne hay is re-introduced two days prior to the ride to provide a reserve of calcium available to the horse. These diets are only a suggestion and the ultimate feeding schedule will depend on your assessment of the horse and his or her response to the ration.
Formula 3 & Power On ration with roughage
|Daily Feeding Guide – 400kg horse – Light to hard work|
|Feed Description||Training & Competition Ration||Pre-Competition|
|Mitavite Formula 3||2.5 – 4.0kg||2.5 – 4.0kg|
|Vitamite Power On||Up to 1.5kg||Up to 1.5kg|
|Vitamite Performa 3||50 – 150mls||50 – 150mls|
|Lucerne Hay||2.0 – 2.5kg|
|Mixed Pasture / Meadow / Oaten Hay||Ad lib or minimum 4.0 – 5.0kg hay||Ad lib or minimum 6.0 – 7.5kg hay|
Feeding at a competition
The feeding and management of your horse at competitions is critical to their wellbeing and performance and may contribute to the ability of the horse to complete the event in a sound, safe manner. Some tips that may help with feeding at competitions are detailed below.
- Keep the horse well hydrated pre-ride – this is achieved by providing fresh water at all times, allowing the horse to graze on fresh pasture or offering ad lib roughage to trigger the thirst response. Electrolyte pastes or powders offered pre-ride can make the horse thirsty, further helping to hydrate them. Always make sure the horse has access to fresh water when administering electrolytes. Putting water over the hard feed immediately prior to feeding, and offering mashes are other ways to increase the water intake of the horse. If your horse does not like the taste of the water, add some flavouring to the water such as molasses, apple cider vinegar or apple juice. If offering flavoured water, always make sure there is a bucket of unflavoured water for the horse to drink.
- Try to keep the same feeding routine while you are away as you do at home to help to keep the horse more relaxed.
- Don’t make any changes to your feeding regime while you are away. Changes to your horse’s feed may affect the enzyme production and gut microbes, and may contribute to gut upsets.
- The horses should not be fed hard feed 4-6 hours before the ride. Feeding a hard feed within four hours of the competition can cause a spike in insulin that can affect performance.
- Provide ad lib soaked roughage to the horse to ensure adequate gut fill of roughage pre-ride. This helps to provide a constant release of volatile fatty acids from the hindgut to the horse throughout the ride.
- Allow your horse to eat at all rest points. 200g of Super Amino 66 and 0.5kg Power On and/or a dipper of Lucerne chaff mixed with molasses or honey, wetted down, will provide a mix to reload and hydrate mid-ride. Make sure any feeds fed at rest points have already been introduced to the diet at home. This ensures the microbial population in the hindgut is already adjusted to the feed, minimising digestive upsets.
- Refuelling after the ride is of importance for the efficient recovery of the horse and for multi-day rides. Approximately two hours post ride the horse’s body is most efficient in rebuilding its glycogen stores, although it will take 3-4 days to replenish them completely. It is therefore prudent to provide a 1-2kg meal of Formula 3 at this time with 1-2 dippers of chaff.
Having confidence in your feeding program is important to ensure your horse has adequate energy and nutrients to successfully complete competitions and recover well. It is important to get the right balance of concentrate, oils and fibre to ensure optimal performance. Feeding well profiled feeds such as Formula 3, Power On and Performa 3 Oil ensures your horse is getting all the nutrients and energy it needs for sustained performance and good recovery.