Fibre First for Competition Horses

Horses have evolved to eat a high-fibre, low-starch ration on an almost continual basis. However, domestication and the requirement for increased energy to fuel performance has resulted in many horse owners turning to concentrates that are rich in sugar and starch to meet this need.

However, at Dengie, we believe it is important to feed for optimal health and performance, and there are three main principles you need to follow to try to achieve this:

Think Fibre First

Despite what many people think, a fibre-based diet can meet the energy requirements of horses in hard work. Research from the Swedish University of Agricultural Science showed that adult horses in heavy exercise were able to meet their energy requirements from high-energy forages alone and at intakes that would be considered normal – about 2% of body weight.

The university’s most recent work has shown that two-year-old Standardbreds in training – requiring energy for growth in addition to work – maintained body weight on a forage diet, too.

When oil is combined with high-quality fibre, it can provide as much energy as a competition or conditioning mix. Dengie Alfa-A Oil, which contains 12.5 MJ/kg DE (digestible energy), is an example of this. When fed at the same levels, Alfa-A Oil can replace the cereal feeds in the ration, which should help to create a less excitable horse because it supplies slow-release energy.

Dengie’s Alfa-A Molasses Free and Healthy Tummy are also high-calorie fibre feeds, combining alfalfa with oil and providing 11.5MJ/kg DE. The latter also contains a high specification of vitamins and minerals, as well as ADM Protexin In-Feed Formula, which supplies prebiotics and yeast to promote a healthy microbial population in the gut.

Alfa-Beet can be fed alongside it to provide additional calories and aid hydration because it is fed soaked, so carries extra water into the digestive system.

Feeding high-quality forages that are highly digestible can go a long way to meet energy requirements alone. It is only when these can’t be met that you should consider cereal-based feeds.

Feed Little and Often

To reduce the risk of digestive disturbance when feeding cereal-based feeds, it is recommended to feed a maximum of 1.5kg per feed. This doesn’t apply to fibre feeds fed in the bucket – you can think of them in the same way as you would a hay net. They are consumed much more slowly than cereals, so fibre feeds don’t overload the stomach and can be fed in much greater volumes.

The Dengie Alfa-A range contains pure alfalfa, which is a natural buffer to acidity because of its calcium and protein content. Feeding one of the Alfa-A range alongside cereal- based feeds helps to slow the rate of consumption and promote better digestion of the cereal feed.

Feeding cereals increases acidity in the gut, which is linked to problems such as gastric ulcers, colic and laminitis. Researchers recommend feeding at least 0.25kg (half a scoop) of alfalfa with any cereal-based feed.

Feed by Weight

Weighing feed enables us to know exactly what we are giving our horses. It’s important to consider how energy-dense cereal-based feeds are. For example, half a scoop of a low-energy mix can provide enough energy for 20 minutes of schooling.

You should also note how lightweight fibre feeds are. Whereas a scoop of mix weighs about 1.25kg, a scoop of the Alfa-A range is only 400g – about a third of the weight of mix.

Providing a balanced diet is essential. If you are feeding your horse a fibre-only ration or less than the recommended amount of a feed with added vitamins and minerals (which is why you need to know how much you are feeding) your horse could be missing out on important nutrients.

Topping up with a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer will ensure your horse is getting everything it needs.