Feeding your race horse

tracey hammond

by Tracey Hammond

Race horses require a specialised diet

The demands of racing and training mean that racehorses have specialised nutritional requirements. Although nutrition is only one of many factors that influence performance, it is a crucial part as it affects the overall health and well-being of the animal. Introducing a diet that is more sympathetic to the horse's digestive system should help to reduce the risk of digestive disturbances such as colic and gastric ulcers, thereby reducing the amount of lost training time.

The benefits of Alfalfa in a race horse’s diet

Fibre is often perceived as a necessary evil with most trainers feeding as little as possible to try and avoid filling their horses with bulk. It's important to consider that not all fibres are the same and that some, such as alfalfa, can be of real benefit to the health of your horse's digestive system. The most important factor is that alfalfa is much more digestible than hay and so doesn't create as much 'deadweight'.

Dengie feeds for race horses

Feeding one of Dengie's Alfa-A range will also provide additional valuable nutrients such as quality protein for muscle development and calcium for bone formation, as alfalfa has a much higher nutritional value than grass hay.

The benefits of alfalfa to digestive health begin with increased chew time. Racehorses spend long periods of time in the stable and develop habits such as wood chewing and cribbing that are often caused by a lack of fibre. By feeding Alfa-A Original, race horses are able to spend longer periods chewing without damaging their stables!

More time spent chewing also increases the amount of saliva produced, which is beneficial for regulating the acidity of the horse's stomach which in turn, should help to reduce the risk of gastric ulcers. The addition of alfalfa to the concentrate ration has been shown to slow the rate of passage of the food through the digestive system. This should enable the horse to extract more of the energy and nutrients from the feed helping to keep the total volume of concentrate feed required to a minimum.

Feeds for horses in training

Healthy Tummy combines key ingredients to help promote a healthy digestive system. Alongside alfalfa, which is a natural buffer to acidity, Healthy Tummy also contains Protexin and special calcium and magnesium that also help to regulate acidity. A unique blend of herbs is added to maximise palatability. Healthy Tummy can be used on its own as a complete feed for horses in light work or alongside mixes, cubes or balancers for horses in hard work.

The Dengie Alfa-A range can be fed with the concentrate ration to promote enhanced digestion. Dengie Alfa-A Oil contains alfalfa with a rape seed oil coating and has an energy value equivalent to a medium to high energy coarse mix. It is particularly useful for promoting improved stamina or helping poor doers to maintain condition. All of the Alfa-A range benefit from high levels of quality protein and calcium and are useful ways to counter poor quality forages.

Feeding straights?

All straight cereals are deficient in certain nutrients such as calcium and quality protein, which is why a balancer or supplement needs to be fed alongside. However, incorporating alfalfa into your feeding regime may mean that you can reduce the amount of balancer or supplement that you feed, as it provides many of the nutrients that cereals lack.

A typical diet for a 500kg horse in hard work would be 4kgs of Oats, 2kgs of Dengie Alfa-A Original and 120 grams of Dengie Performance Vits & Mins or 500g Dengie Alfa-A Balancer plus hay.

Maintaining a healthy gut

Racehorses come into contact with lots of other horses, which means they are vulnerable to picking up bugs. Combined with the fact that their diets are far removed from what they would consume naturally, the health of the digestive system can be significantly compromised.

To promote a healthy digestive system, digestive enhancers that contain yeast, and prebiotics can be used to promote the good bacteria that are involved in keeping harmful bacteria at bay. Dengie Digestive Health Plus supplement combines:

  • Live Yeast for efficient fibre digestion, which can reduce the amount of indigestible material sitting in the gut.
  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) - a prebiotic which encourages the proliferation of beneficial bacteria that are known to have a fundamental role in gut health
  • Brewers yeast provides the key nutrients that the fibre digesting bacteria require to function efficiently

All Dengie products are produced to meet the BETA NOPS scheme.

Managing muscle problems in race horses

Although the cause of muscle problems that have previously been known as Tying-up, Azoturia etc are still not fully understood, research has helped establish trigger factors that are linked to the disease. These include high starch diets, not reducing the feed prior to a rest period, hormonal influences and even viral infections. The general feeding advice is as follows:

  • Use as low starch feeds as possible – try to use oil and fibre as energy sources eg Alfa-A Oil or Healthy Tummy
  • Warm-up and cool-down horses thoroughly
  • Reduce workload if evidence of a viral infection exists
  • Reduce feed when workload is decreased

For further advice on feeding horses with muscle problems please click here.

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