Feeding your Racehorse

Article last updated: 12th February 2024

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 Racehorse’s Diet

Digestive Health – adding a chopped fibre feed, such as Dengie Alfa-A Original to mixes and cubes slows the rate of intake and passage of cereal-based feeds through the gut. Increased chew time increases saliva production which helps to buffer acidity in the stomach due to the bicarbonates (or buffers) that saliva contains.

To Stop Acid Splash – exercising on an empty stomach increases ulcer risk due to the acidic contents of the stomach splashing around when the horses moves. Using a double handful of Dengie Alfa-A Original just before exercise helps to form a fibrous mat to stop the splash.

For Calcium – a pure alfalfa product, such as Dengie Alfa-A Original or Alfa-A Oil provides 1.5% calcium. Just 1 scoop (400g) provides a 500kg exercising horse with 1/5th of their daily calcium requirements. Research has found that omeprazole may reduce calcium absorption. Whether this is contributing to an increased risk of bone fractures is yet to be confirmed but it is worth providing additional calcium in the ration as a risk reduction strategy.

Reducing the Reliance on Starch – for horses prone to gastric ulcers, colic and muscle problems feeding a lower starch ration is key. All Dengie fibre feeds provide 2% starch or less. Products like Dengie Alfa-A Oil contain the same energy as many racing rations, but with between 5 and 10 times less starch. Keeping starch levels low without compromising on energy intake is key for balancing health, condition and performance.

Quality ProteinDengie’s pure alfalfa chopped fibre feeds typically supply 12-14% crude protein and 0.7% lysine. Alfalfa supplies 1.8x more lysine compared to average grass hay and can be a useful way of improving the nutritional quality of the forage ration.

Tempting Fussy Feeders – loss of appetite particularly being fussy with forage can present a real challenge and quickly increase the chance of digestive disturbance through low fibre intake. Products like Cool, Condition & Shine, Performance Fibre and Hi-Fi Senior are all exceptionally palatable helping to tempt the fussy feeder to eat sufficient fibre.

Bag SizeDigestible Energy (MJ/kg)Starch %Sugar %
Alfa-A OilDengie's highest energy fibre feed combining precision dried alfalfa and oil.

For slow-release energy, weight gain and coat shine.

Approved by BETA for horses prone to Equine Gastric Ulcers Syndrome.
Performance FibrePrecision dried alfalfa and grasses with a molasses and oil coating including spearmint oil for the fussiest of feeders.

High levels of oil for slow-release energy and coat shine.

Approved by BETA for horses prone to Equine Gastric Ulcers Syndrome.
Cool, Condition & ShineA highly palatable blend of soft chopped grasses and straw with grass and alfalfa pellets for added interest.

High oil for slow-release energy and coat shine.
Alfa-A OriginalPrecision dried alfalfa with a molasses coating.

The original palatable, low starch chopped alfalfa feed.
Hi-Fi SeniorA palatable combination of precision dried alfalfa and soft grasses with a light molasses and oil coating.

Can be used to totally replace forage for fussy horses.

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

Dengie Feeds Suitable for Racehorses

New Research Highlights More Key Benefits of Alfalfa for Racehorses

The following studies add to those that have been published over the last 30 years highlighting the benefits of feeding alfalfa to promote digestive health. The latest studies focus on pelleted alfalfa to try and overcome some of the challenges, both real and perceived, of feeding chopped alfalfa.

  • Clinical success in horses with EGGD (glandular ulcers) is 47.7 times more likely in horses fed alfalfa pellets as part of their ration compared to those on concentrate only rations. (Julliand et al, 2023)
  • Standardbred horses in race training fed a combination of chopped and pelleted alfalfa at 80% of the bucket feed with just 20% cereal content performed just as well as those fed cereals alone. This is another study that challenges the belief that high levels of cereals are need to support high intensity exercise. A particularly interesting finding from the second study was that there may in fact be metabolic benefits which could improve a horse’s performance over the longer term from feeding a higher fibre diet! (Martin et al, 2021)
  • A commercial feed combining sugar beet pulp, alfalfa meal and oatfeed aided reduction in recurrence of gastric ulcers when fed during the healing and post medication periods in addition to the usual ration. This is key for when ulcer medication is stopped and the rebound increase in acid production can occur. (Menzies-Gow and Shurlock, 2024)

How Can You Incorporate Alfalfa into Your Horse’s Rations?

For more information and facts about feeding from qualified and experienced equine nutritionists contact the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841 188 or fill in our Feed Advice Form.