Springtime means many riders are getting their horses ready to go out and compete, whether just for fun or to qualify for a serious competition. There are a wide range of disciplines available in the UK. You can even compete from the ground in Horse Agility! From dressage to Trec, polocrosse to driving, showjumping, showing and mounted skills at arms, there is something for everyone.
The focus here will be about nutrition and hydration, but a mention of the other most important factors – fitness (conditioning) and confidence – both through adequate preparation, are key to ensuring that you and your horse enjoy the experience and that you perform to your best.
Nutrition supports your training regime, allowing you to condition your horse through a specific exercise plan. You need to feed a balanced diet with enough energy to fuel your horse’s exercise without supplying excess that would be laid down as body fat. Be sure to offer free access to clean water to keep your horse hydrated, and a salt lick to ensure adequate sodium intake. You need to feed electrolyte salts in the feed as well as the salt lick if you are working your horse hard enough to sweat for over an hour at a time.
During all competitions except the longest endurance or Trec rides, your horse will use fuel stored in his muscles, not what you feed him prior to or during the competition. This is why your normal feeding regime is more important that what you feed the night before or the morning of the competition. For endurance events where you can feed during the competition, ideally offer what the horse normally eats, or anything he will eat if he is not particularly interested in feed.
Transportation dehydrates horses and carries with it an increased risk of colic, so it is important to ensure your horse is fully hydrated before you travel. Ideally offer forage during the journey to help the horse settle and to avoid a long fast. For long journeys, feed a probiotic supplement for a week prior, during and a week after the trip, to help support gut health. Offer water during rest stops, every few hours. Adding molasses to water can encourage drinking. Performance horses should not have their forage taken away the night before a competition and can be fed limited forage right up to the competition.
Don’t change your horse’s diet suddenly. Make adjustments with regard to the normal ration. If you and your horse are travelling to a competition or courses, take your own forage with you and offer some to your horse during a long day, and if you are stabling away. If you want to feed a bran mash after competition, you need to feed bran daily (and balance it appropriately).
For horses who are turned out for any part of the day, allow some grazing if possible on long trips away. Research shows that stabled horses are at higher risk of colic especially during the first few days of changing from being pasture kept to stabled – so if you are stabling during a clinic or competition over several days, try to hand graze, feed wet feeds and don’t change to new forage.
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy yourselves!