Hunters work hard on hunting days, so they need to be fit and fed correctly to cope with this and stay sound, fit and well throughout their season.
Hunters need to be in lean condition so that they are not carrying extra dead weight (fat) when they are expected to work hard throughout a day’s hunting. They need a balanced diet with all the essential nutrients they require every day, including the correct vitamins and minerals. If they are overfed energy during training – in the mistaken belief that dietary energy will give them more energy in their work – then they will lay down too much fat and therefore carry undesirable weight.
Fitness is key for good performance in a hunter, because a good level of fitness gives them stamina and reduces the risk of injury and early fatigue, and also causes them to use the nutrients from their feed more efficiently, and have more efficient access to the energy stores (glycogen) in their muscles.
Always feed your hunter plenty of forage, and especially on the day and night before hunting. A good gutfill of forage holds water and helps avoid dehydration during a day of hard work. Choose forage wisely, sourcing a moderate to high energy forage for a horse in hard work to reduce reliance on concentrate feed. Feed plenty of salt, to ensure good hydration because horses who sweat heavily lose a great deal of body salts. If these are not replenished, the hard working horse will not drink enough to stay well hydrated.
Oats are a suitable concentrate feed if they are balanced correctly. They need to be fed with a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement plus a source of calcium e.g. either plenty of sugar beet pulp (ideally unmolassed) or a calcium supplement. If you feed oats with relatively low protein forage and the horse isn’t turned out much, you also need to add a source of good quality protein e.g. an oat balancer pellet, soya bean meal, micronized linseed or sunflower seeds.
Do not feed a bran mash once a week, because it disturbs the hindgut and is unhealthy. If you want the benefits of a bran mash, you need to feed some bran every day, say half a kilo (about a pound) and then you can feed that palatable bran mash after a hard day’s hunting, along with the normal feed. Bran mashes are useful sources of palatable energy, fibre and moisture. Bran alone does not act as a laxative. The laxative action is due to the Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) that is often added, which draws water into the gut. This drawing of water into the gut is very useful for dehydrated horses and will help reduce the risk of impaction colic. So, a bran mash containing Epsom salts after a hard day’s hunting can be useful, but you need to add some bran daily, and also offer the normal feed and plenty of forage that evening.