Happy New Year to all our readers and I hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing Christmas and New Year. Although I’m not a great fan of New Year’s resolutions because they can put too much pressure on you and cause you to fail before you get started, I do feel that the New Year is a good time to assess what you’ve been doing, how you’ve been doing it and whether or not both make good sense!

Apply this to feeding our horses, and there are two important reminders I’d like to give you this week. These have been included in previous blogs, but I know from my clients and my facebook followers that most horse owners are still not applying these important guidelines.

The first is this. The absolute cornerstone of correct nutrition and therefore health and performance is a balanced diet. A balanced diet is one that supplies all the essential nutrients every day. Despite the fact that this is a basic rule of nutrition, most horse owners I come across are not feeding a balanced diet. The same errors in feeding come up time and time again – owners feeding less than the full recommended amount of compound feed and those feeding more natural forage-based diet with fibrous straight feeds neither or whom are adding multi-vitamins and minerals. Even if your horse is maintaining weight and condition – i.e. has enough dietary energy and protein – you must feed a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to make up for deficiencies if you aren’t feeding the full recommended amount of a compound feed.

The next reminder of horse nutrition sense is the balance between energy fed and exercise. Whilst dietary energy fuels exercise, the horse’s capacity for exercise actually comes from their fitness, or level of conditioning. You cannot give your horse more energy in their work or increase stamina simply by feeding more energy on top of their requirement. There is a certain energy intake (from a balanced diet) above which your horse will lay down fat stores, not have more ‘fuel in the tank’. Sometimes we feel that concentrate feed does ‘fuel’ some horses, but this is probably due to their reaction to the starch it contains, which can cause some horses to become more reactive and ‘fizzy’.

Eating or feeding more dietary energy won’t give you or your horse more stamina. Only exercise training can do this. Photograph courtesy of Clare MacLeod.
Eating or feeding more dietary energy won’t give you or your horse more stamina. Only exercise training can do this.
Photograph courtesy of Clare MacLeod.

Horses who are maintaining or gaining weight (body fat) who need more ‘energy’ in their work do not need more dietary energy, but instead need to either get fitter and/or be more motivated by having their exercise regime made more interesting.

If you want to maintain your horse in optimal health and with good welfare, ensure you feed a balanced diet and if you’re not sure, then ask or look up a good quality standard textbook. When it comes to fuelling exercise, don’t confuse behavioural temperament with stamina and remember that conditioning exercise applied via a gradual training programme is the only factor that improves stamina and gets your horse fitter. Feed fuels exercise but cannot give stamina to an unfit horse or enthusiasm to a bored horse.

I wish you and your horses all the very best for the year ahead.

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About Clare MacLeod

Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr is one of the UK’s few registered independent equine nutritionists who also has expertise in health and fitness. She advises private and commercial clients in all sectors of the horse world and is a hands-on horse owner herself. Clare is passionate about correct nutrition as a foundation for good health, without which peak fitness is not possible. She states “Good nutrition isn’t everything, but there’s nothing without it”.