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  • July 06, 2023 4 min read

    The Importance of Feeding Your Horse by Its Workload

    Proper nutrition plays a fundamental role in maintaining a horse's health, performance, and overall well-being. As horse owners, it is our responsibility to provide our equine companions with a balanced diet that meets their specific dietary requirements. One crucial aspect to consider is feeding our horses in accordance with their workload. Whether your horse is a leisurely trail companion or a competitive athlete, tailoring their diet to match their level of activity is vital for optimal health and performance. 

    But, what does it mean to feed by workload? Because, if you are like most people, your horse will probably have a couple of days off during the week. Well, it means that your horse's diet will be tailored to their energy expenditure, and on days of increased workload, you will increase the amount fed. For example, on rest days, you would feed an at-rest diet, and on light work days, you increase their feed to meet their calorie expenditure. Feeding in this way has a multitude of benefits, which we will delve into in further detail below. 

    Understanding the Digestive System 

    To appreciate the importance of workload-based feeding, it is essential to understand the equine digestive system. Horses possess a sensitive and complex digestive system designed to process small amounts of fibrous forage consistently throughout the day. Their natural grazing behavior promotes healthy digestion. However, when horses are subjected to varying levels of physical activity, their nutritional needs shift accordingly. Feeding practices should align with these changing requirements to ensure the overall health and longevity of the horse.

    Meeting Energy Demands 

    Horses engaged in different levels of activity have varying energy requirements. Light to moderate workload horses, such as pleasure riders or horses used for occasional light exercise, will typically require a diet consisting primarily of high-quality forage. This ensures they receive sufficient nutrients to support their basic physiological functions without excessive caloric intake. Conversely, horses involved in intense training, competition, or strenuous work necessitate a higher energy intake. Concentrated feeds, such as grains, legumes, and supplements, may be introduced to meet their elevated energy demands while still maintaining a balanced diet.

    Nutrient Balance for Optimal Performance 

    When developing a diet plan for your horse, a balanced nutrient profile must be developed. The macronutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, must be appropriately adjusted to support the horse's level of activity. For instance, a performance horse engaged in regular intense exercise requires a higher protein intake to support muscle repair and development. Conversely, horses with lighter workloads may need a lower protein intake to avoid unnecessary strain on their kidneys.

    Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are also equally crucial for overall health. Intense physical activity can result in higher nutrient losses, emphasizing the need for adequate supplementation. Essential minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and electrolytes must be maintained at proper levels to support bone strength, muscle function, and hydration.

    Weight Management and Body Condition 

    Feeding a horse according to its workload allows for effective weight management and body condition control. Horses involved in light work might easily maintain a healthy weight with access to good-quality forage alone. However, horses with demanding training schedules or those that compete regularly may require controlled portions of concentrated feed to meet their energy needs without becoming overweight.

    Maintaining the ideal body condition is essential for optimal performance and overall health. Overfeeding or underfeeding can lead to complications, such as metabolic disorders, reduced stamina, and compromised immune function. Regularly monitoring a horse's body condition and adjusting its diet accordingly ensures that the animal remains in peak physical condition.

    Behaviour Response 

    Most horses are sensitive to the amount that they are fed, and will often exhibit energetic or spooky behavior if overfed. Hence, adjusting the amount that is fed to your horse by their energy expenditure, should keep your horse's behaviour a little more balanced, and less hyperactive! It is also best to feed the increased amount after they have been ridden, as this will help keep their behaviour calm. 

    Reducing Feed Costs 

    An unexpected, but welcomed, advantage of feeding your horse in this way, is an overall reduced feed cost. Many owners will feed the same amount of feed to their horses, regardless of time off or rest days. But, by tailoring the amount fed with energy expenditure, you will save on feed costs. This may not be a huge amount, but every penny counts! 

    Take Home Message

    If you decide to adjust the amount fed to your horse by its workload, then it is important to understand that you should only be adjusting theamount fed, not what is being fed. So, a new feed should not be added to your horse's diet when you need to feed more calories, as this could potentially cause digestive upsets. If you need further advice in creating a diet plan for your horse, it is highly recommended that you consult with a qualified equine nutritionist or your vet. 

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