By Dr. Joe Pagan · March 1, 2012
Most performance horses train and compete under a variety of stressful conditions that adversely affect health and performance. Feeding management is of critical importance to reduce many of these problems. Additionally, pre-competition feeding can significantly affect performance. Feeding management affects a number of different aspects of equine health and performance including gastrointestinal function, hydration, electrolyte status, and substrate selection during exercise. This article will review these key areas of performance horse nutrition and give practical recommendations about how to feed horses under stressful conditions.
Horses have evolved over millions of years as grazers, with specialized digestive tracts adapted to digest and utilize diets containing high levels of plant fiber. They are capable of processing large quantities of forage to meet their nutrient demands. In an attempt to maximize growth or productivity, horses are often fed diets which also contain high levels of grains and supplements. Unfortunately, this type of grain supplementation often overshadows the significant contribution that forages make in satisfying the horse’s nutrient demands.
Horses are classified anatomically as nonruminant herbivores or hindgut fermenters. The large intestine of the horse holds about 80 to 90 liters (21 to 24 gallons) of liquid and houses billions of bacteria and protozoa that produce enzymes which ferment plant fiber...