Whether you're heading out to do your first prelim test or competing at Grand Prix, success relies on many pieces of a puzzle coming together. Although diet is just one of many factors that affects the health and performance of your horse, it’s one that you can influence and deserves close attention. Here we share 5 of our top tips to help get you started…

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of forage

Forage should be the foundation of every horse’s diet and the performance horse is no exception. As well as being essential for digestive health and mental well-being, forage makes a significant contribution towards total daily energy intake. Ideally forage should be fed ad-lib wherever possible but total intake should not be restricted to less than 1.5% of current bodyweight per day (on a dry matter basis). On average, this equates to approximately 9kg of hay or 11-12kg of haylage for a 500kg horse without grazing.

2. Remember every horse is an individual

The second but equally important ‘golden rule’ is to remember that regardless of the level you are competing at, every horse is an individual. The amount of energy (calories) fed should be adjusted according to your horse’s body condition (a body condition score of 5 out of 9 is generally considered ideal). Balancers are a great way of supplying vitamins, minerals and amino acids for horses that maintain weight well on forage alone or reduced rations of feed. When choosing the source of energy e.g. whether opting for a fibre and oil or cereal-based feed, it’s important to consider the horse’s temperament and clinical history. Providing a diet containing low or restricted levels of cereal starch (and sugar) plays a key role in managing horses prone to conditions such as gastric ulcers, colic and tying-up and helps to reduce the risk of feed related excitability so contact a nutritionist for specific advice.

3. Avoid sudden or frequent changes in diet

Some changes in diet may be inevitable, particularly for horses travelling to stay away at shows, but frequent or sudden changes in feed and forage should be avoided as far as possible. Feeding for optimum performance and recovery begins long before the day of competition. In some cases, horses work harder during training than on the day of competition but regardless of whether or not this is the case, establishing an appropriate diet beforehand and resisting the temptation to make changes immediately before or after an event is key. Cereal based feeds should be reduced for horses having a few days rest to reduce the risk of unwanted excitability and tying up – as a guide, by half from the evening before to the evening after. High fibre, low starch feeds are less of a concern, even if they are high in energy although a gradual transition to a lower energy feed may be necessary for longer periods of rest or reduced work. As a guide, replace no more than 500g of your current feed for 500g of new feed every other day for horses, less for ponies. Wherever possible, changes in forage should ideally be made over a 3-week period.

4. Be supplement savvy

Many riders find supplements useful but beware of bold claims – if it sounds too good to be true it probably is! It’s also important to remember that more does not always equal better. Vitamin A and some minerals can be harmful if over-supplied, with iron, selenium and iodine being of particular concern because undesirable effects can occur at relatively low levels and over-feeding supplements are the easiest way to come unstuck. Horses sweating regularly will need some form of electrolyte replacement (fed daily as opposed to only after sweating) and in the majority of cases, table salt is an effective solution. The amount of salt needed will depend on the horse’s base diet and sweat loss – estimating requirements can be tricky so it’s worth seeking advice from a nutritionist.

5. Know the facts about NOPS

Any competition horse may be tested for prohibited substances at any time so understanding the rules around liability and how to mitigate this risk of a positive test is essential. Ensuring all feeds and supplements are BETA NOPS approved plays a fundamental part, but it doesn’t stop there. Did you know that many human foods including tea and coffee, fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits and sweets may contain naturally occurring prohibited substances (NOPS) which means eating and drinking in the feed room or stable has the potential to result in a positive test? BETA offers a number of free advice resources on how to reduce the risk in all areas of the horse’s management.

If you would like a free feed & supplements record book you can request one from us by emailing teamspillers@effem.com.

For more advice on feeding your competition horse contact the SPILLERS Care-Line