Whatever level you compete at, and no matter how hard you are working your horse, fibre should be the foundation of the ration. Fibre is often overlooked in performance nutrition but it is a really important form of horse feed for promoting both health and performance.
Fibre For Energy
Often undervalued as an energy source, fibre can provide a significant amount of energy for the working horse. The amount of energy supplied depends on the digestibility of the fibre, which is influenced by plant type, environmental conditions and most significantly maturity at harvest. The more mature a plant, the less digestible it will be and therefore the less energy it will provide.
Combining high-quality fibre with energy-dense oil provides as much energy as a competition mix/cube at around 12.5 MJ/Kg DE, but with much lower levels of starch. Fibre and oil are both slow-release energy sources and so are particularly useful for stamina and conditioning without the fizz.
Fibre For Digestive Health
It is well documented that fibre is vital for the digestive health of the horse. Low fibre diets, combined with higher starch rations are linked to loose droppings and an increased risk of colic and gastric ulcers. Feeding a double handful of chopped fibre feed 20-25 minutes before your ride is recommended to help prevent ‘acid splash’ in the non-glandular region of your horse’s stomach. The fibre makes sure the stomach isn’t empty and suppresses the movement of the acidic contents when the horse moves.
Competing away from home can often mean a change of diet either because there is little or no opportunity to graze or because it is necessary to change to the forage provided at the showground. Getting your horse established on a partial hay replacer ration before you go is one way of avoiding a total diet change. The grass used in chopped fibre feeds is harvested when the grass plants are young and therefore more digestible. This means they have a higher nutritional value than grass hay and so are great for supporting the increased demands of travelling and competing.
Fibre To Supply Protein
Protein is vital for growth, renewal and repair and when it comes to the competition horse this translates to strength and top-line muscle condition. It is important to understand that nutrition isn’t the only piece of the puzzle and you will also need to focus on fitness and training to build your horse’s muscle tone too. Having sufficient protein in the diet is important for building muscle and it’s not just the amount of protein, but the quality as well, that matters. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Some of these must come from the diet and these are called essential amino acids and described as “quality” protein. Of these, lysine is particularly important as it is a limiting amino acid – if the horse has insufficient lysine then protein synthesis and therefore muscle development would be limited. Your horse will obtain protein from a variety of sources in the diet including grass, forage and bucket feed.
Fibre To Aid Hydration
Hydration is key for health and performance. Both water and electrolytes are required to keep your horse hydrated and an electrolyte supplement should be a daily addition to the ration throughout training, travel and competition. Using a fibre mash can be helpful for two reasons. Firstly, a soaked feed carries water into the digestive tract and, as it is so highly digestible, releases it readily to aid hydration. Secondly, fibre mashes are useful for masking the taste of electrolytes or water when travelling and competing away from home.
Fibre And Respiratory Health
Stabling and travelling horses in confined spaces potentially increases their exposure to respirable particles which can be detrimental to respiratory health. Respirable particles include mould, amongst other things, and even hay and straw that look and smell ok to us can still contain a significant mould count and have the potential to do harm. Selecting good quality horse feeds and forages is therefore really important. It is worth considering carrying out a mould test on forage before using it too.