My competition horse travels regularly and I am keen to ensure that I am doing all I can to ensure he arrives in good health and can compete to the best of his ability. He’s a 10 year old Arab and we currently compete in endurance up to 80 km. At home he is at pasture 24/7 and is fed a scoop of low starch medium energy nuts with a cupful of vegetable oil and some grass chaff, twice daily. He’s fed sugar beet water (with a little of the beet in) during competitions and electrolytes after he’s competed.
You’re right to be concerned about the effects of travelling on your endurance horse’s health and performance. Travelling does cause some stress, even in horses accustomed to it, and it has been likened to walking exercise. Both feed and water intake decrease during travelling, and horses may get dehydrated over long journeys, especially in high temperatures and humidity. Hydration is a key factor for good health and performance in endurance horses.
Be sure to leave enough time before a competition for rehydration – at least 24 hours for horses transported for around 12 hours and ideally double that for horses transported for 24 hours.
The first concern is to ensure your horse is fully hydrated before travelling. Feed electrolytes daily mixed into his nuts and chaff whilst he’s in training, adjusting the amount to how much he has sweated. Train him to drink isotonic rehydration solutions by offering them after particularly hard sessions or those done during hot, humid days. The sugar beet water is useful to aid water intake, but ideally offer this on a daily basis or use some soaked sugar beet daily in the feed to avoid sudden dietary changes. Do use the sugar beet water during training as well as competition. Feeding unmolassed sugar beet as part of the daily ration provides a good, highly digestive fibre component in the diet and may help promote water holding and releasing capacity in the gut.
You can also aid hydration by allowing your horse access to forage whilst travelling. Forage acts as a fluid and electrolyte reservoir in the digestive tract and should not be limited in the endurance horse. Offer water at least every 4 hours during travelling, at rest stops.
Feeding probiotics can help to maintain good health in horses who travel frequently, and you can either feed them daily throughout your competitive season or 7 days before and after you travel on long journeys (4 hours plus).