Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Feeding Endurance Horses: Competition Day

By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 20, 2011

You and your horse will put in weeks or months of training to get ready for a race. Here’s how to plan your competition day so that your horse has the best chance, from a nutritional management standpoint, of giving you his maximal performance when the time comes.

Arrival. Try to arrive at the competition at least four hours prior to the start time. This allows the horse to recover from the journey and become settled in the new environment, reducing stress and putting him in the best frame of mind for competition. It also allows you to settle and prepare for the task. Feed a small grain meal (about 1 kg or 2.2 lb) on arrival to top up glycogen stores, and allow access to a small amount of hay and/or grazing. After this meal, feed no more grain and only small amounts of hay for the four hours prior to start time.

Feeding hay. Feeding small amounts of hay regularly up to start time will stimulate water intake and maintain gut health and natural gut function. Lucerne (alfalfa) hay can be beneficial at this time to boost calcium levels. Horses lose calcium in sweat, so it is a good idea to top up reserves with some lucerne just prior to competition.

Electrolyte loading. Loading the horse with electrolytes is commonly practiced amongst endurance riders. Many riders start their horses on electrolytes 24 hours prior to the competition. Giving the horse large doses of electrolytes prior to competition is not recommended. Overloading electrolytes can cause shifts in fluid balance, which could be detrimental to performance. Furthermore, evidence shows that the horse stores only what it requires at the time. Since the horse has not yet lost electrolytes through sweat, the majority of the preloaded salts are lost in urine before competition begins. It may be beneficial to give an electrolyte supplement within the last hour before competition to stimulate thirst, but the major benefit of electrolyte administration is at rest stops and post race.
Choose an electrolyte supplement containing high concentrations of sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

The most important ingredient in your electrolyte is salt. Choose an electrolyte supplement containing high concentrations of sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Beware of products containing high levels of dextrose. You can provide sugars simply by giving a small grain meal. Avoid alkaline electrolytes containing bicarbonate or citrate as these can contribute to making the horse alkalotic during and after the ride.

Feeding at rest stops. Prepare the horse’s grain for the day by splitting the ration into four equal parts to be fed throughout the day. Try not to feed more than 1 kg (2.2 lb) of grain or other high-starch/sugar feed in any one meal. Feeding large grain meals causes spikes in blood glucose. In this situation, the horse metabolises glucose rather than mobilising fat as an energy source, and in endurance horses this can contribute to premature fatigue.

It is best to wait until the horse’s heart rate has returned to its resting level before feeding grain. Coming into rest stops, ensure that the heart rate is on its way down so that you will have enough time to feed and allow digestion to begin before you have to be off again. Many successful endurance riders feed a slurry-type feed during rest stops based on sugar beet or bran with added carrots, apples, and electrolytes. Often endurance horses will not eat a regular grain meal at rest stops, but will readily eat the slurry feed. This is a great way of getting electrolytes and water into the horse. A small amount of grain (1/2 to 1 kg, or 1 to 2 lb) can be added to the feeds for a quick carbohydrate boost. Feeding good- quality lucerne hay or mixed grass/lucerne hay and allowing grazing at rest stops is also beneficial for energy, gut fill, stimulating water intake, and increasing calcium levels as well as settling your horse with a familiar behaviour pattern.

Water. Obviously, the horse should be allowed access to water at every opportunity along the ride and at each rest stop. Giving electrolytes during the ride as well as at rest stops and allowing grazing and access to hay will all stimulate thirst and help to ensure correct hydration.

Post-race feeding. When the race is over, you need to replenish the horse’s lost energy. After the horse’s heart rate has returned to a normal resting level, feed the final grain meal of the day. This can be slightly larger than the other meals given (around 2 kg or 4.4 lb, plus chaff). Access to grazing and hay can return to free choice. For the next 48 hours, split feeds into four each day. The horse may need to be fed more than usual to replace lost glycogen or body weight. This is best fed in the form of highly digestible fibre, fat, and processed grains. The 48-hour period right after the race is when endurance horses lose most of their weight. The horse has expended a lot of energy and needs to replenish his reserves. Free-choice good-quality hay and water are vital at this time. It is a good idea to supplement both electrolytes and B-vitamins to stimulate appetite, replenish reserves, and speed up recovery. Supplementation with vitamin E and selenium for two to three days after the race can help to ease stiff or sore muscles. Feeding levels can be reduced back to normal after the critical 48-hour period.

Recovery. Following a race, turnout over the first 48 hours is best, allowing free-choice exercise. Where this is not possible or pasture is restricted, regular hand-walking is recommended to stretch the muscles and ease stiffness. After two to three days, the horse can be lightly ridden. Ridden work can be gradually increased over the next seven days to get the horse back into training for the next ride.

No comments: