To celebrate the Horse and Hound Professional Rider of the Year Awards we are bringing you more tips for feeding competition horses, this time focusing on those prone to excitability.
Although diet is just one of many factors that can affect behaviour, your choice of feed can certainly help or hinder an excitable temperament -so here are our top tips to help keep even the most excitable of horses calm before a competition:
• Diet can generally lead to excitability in one of two ways; firstly by oversupplying energy (energy=calories) and secondly by supplying higher levels of starch (and sometimes sugar). In fact, feeding higher levels of cereal starch is the most common cause of diet related excitability.
• Base as much of the diet on forage as possible. If your horse maintains weight well on forage alone, a feed balancer is the ideal option.
• Feed according to your horse’s current body condition. If your horse has a low body condition scoring, choosing your feed carefully can provide much needed energy (calories) for weight gain without exacerbating an already excitable temperament.
• Feeds do not need to be sugar or molasses free – instead check the starch content as this is far more likely to affect your horse’s behaviour.
• The amount of cereal starch tolerated by individual horses will vary. Start by choosing fibre based feeds containing less than 15% starch initially (or less than 10% for very sensitive horses). If higher levels of energy/calories are required look for feeds that are also high in oil. Oil is approximately 2.5 times higher in energy compared to cereals and starch free!
• If adding oil to your horse’s current feed, do so gradually and ensure the total diet provides an additional 100iu of vitamin E per 100mls of oil – speak to a nutritionist for more advice.
• Avoid all mixes, even those labelled as ‘non-heating’. Due to the cereal content mixes are almost always higher in starch than the equivalent cube.
• Don’t be tempted to increase your horse’s feed in anticipation of increased work.
• Calming supplements may be helpful in some horses. If you are competing under FEI rules only use feeds and supplements approved by BETA NOPS.