Nutritional Needs of the Performance Horse

A team roping horse is an athlete. Athleticism is the only term to describe going from a standstill to a full sprint, all the while reacting to two other creatures-the steer and the rider-then pulling a 450-pound steer in a direction it doesn’t want to go, and then stopping the entire movement as suddenly as it started, usually in under 10 seconds. Practice this repeatedly on a daily basis over the course of a roping season and your horse will begin to develop more specialized nutritional needs.

There are certain nutritional standards every horse must meet to stay healthy, which will be discussed. But for the performance athlete, there are even more specific standards for developing and maintaining a healthy horse that can endure the workload expected of it. To begin, a horse should consume about 2 percent of its body weight, within a half percent, so it’s important to know how much your horse weighs by using a weight tape or a neighbor’s scales. Then, feed accordingly. Instead of feeding a scoop, feed the correct weight; in short, feed by weight not by volume. Also, following a regular schedule and feeding the roughage before grain can help make the digestive process easier for your horse.

Energy is needed for all meta-bolic activities within the horse, especially in activities such as team roping. Energy in a feeding ration is second in importance only to water, and is provided by three nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Energy requirements for an individual horse depend on its workload. An endurance horse, for example, can effectively utilize energy sources such as fat, while the short-duration horse or high-velocity performance horse will perform its work anaerobically using carbohydrates. It’s important to realize that carbohydrates have a limited ability to be stored within the horse’s body, while fat can be stored easily and in larger quantities. However, the more high-velocity horses can utilize both fats and carbohydrates very effectively. Dietary fat also may train the horse’s metabolism to use body fat stores at lower oxygen levels than normal. This can improve performance by delaying the onset of fatigue by conserving the body’s reserves of glucose.

Balancing your horse’s energy intake may be one of the most challenging aspects to establishing your feeding regimen. Consider, though, when you work for hours on end to shave hundredths of a second off your times, how vital it is to have your horse operating at his maximum ability. [PAGEBREAK]

Poor Animal extremely emaciated; spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, tuber coxae (hip joints), and ischia (lower pelvic bones) projecting prominently; bone structure of withers, shoulders, and neck easily notice-able; no fatty tissue can be felt.

Very Thin Animal emaciated; slight fat covering over base of spinous processes, transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded; spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, tuber coxae (hip joints) and ischia (lower pelvic bones) prominent; withers, shoulders, and neck structure faintly discernable.

Thin Fat buildup about halfway on spinous processes; transverse processes cannot be felt; slight fat cover over ribs; spinous processes and ribs easily discernable; tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually; tuber coxae (hip joints), appear rounded but easily discernable; tuber ischia (lower pelvic bones) not distinguishable; withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.

Moderately Thin Slight ridge along back; faint outline of ribs discernible; tailhead prominence depends on conformation, fat can be felt around it; tuber coxae (hip joints) not discernable; withers, shoulders and neck not obviously thin.

Moderate Back is flat (no crease or ridge); ribs not visually distinguishable but easily felt; fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy; withers appear rounded over spinous processes; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

Moderately Fleshy May have slight crease down back; fat over ribs spongy; fat around tailhead soft; fat beginning to be deposited along the side of withers, behind shoulders, and along sides of neck.

Fleshy May have slight crease down back; individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat; fat around tailhead soft; fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders,and along neck.

Fat Crease down back; difficult to feel ribs, fat around tailhead very soft; fat area along withers filled with fat, area behind shoulder filled with fat, noticeable thickening of neck; fat deposited along inner thighs.

Extremely Fat Obvious crease down back; patchy fat appearing over ribs, bulging fat around tailhead; along withers, behind shoulders and along neck, fat along inner thighs may rub together; flank filled with fat.In general, a horse can be effectively maintained with 20 pounds of good-quality grass hay. When moving to performance horse, however, that is probably merely a good start.

Carbohydrates and Fats for Energy
For the performance horse, forage provides about 60-70 percent of necessary energy while fats provide 20-40 percent and grains, or carbohydrates, provide 0-10 percent. Consider that many horses involved in an intense work level require around 35,000 (shown in the chart on page 52 in thousands) calories each day. The chart on page 52 shows approximate amounts of different feed sources that can give your horse the necessary energy. Remember that too much grain and legume hay can put extra stress on a horse’s digestive system. Consider fat supplements and fermentable fibers as an alternative to excessive grain and legume hay since they are usually well tolerated by horses’ digestive tracts. Usually no more that six pounds of grain should be fed per day.

Many pellet feeds will contain the basic energy requirements. Learn to read the labels, know what your looking for and a pellet feed might make the balancing process easier. If your horse has special nutritional needs beyond what the pellet feed brand you choose provides, consider supplements. Beyond nutritional value, pellet feeds must be palatable. Consider a fat or fiber supplement as dressing if you choose a pellet feed.

Protein requirements are almost always met in the course of a feeding regimen. At maintenance level, horses require protein in about 10-12 percent of their feed, easily met by good quality grass or alfalfa hay. A performance horse may require slightly more protein, 14-15 percent, but feeding protein for energy is a waste, will not enhance your horse’s ability and may actually cause harm.

Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are utilized differently in the high-performance horse. As a horse eats more, as he will when he is worked harder, his rate of passage of nutrients increases and his utilization of those nutrients decreases. So the more he eats, the less he will utilize nutrients. You should make sure he is supplemented every day, he is correctly balanced, and that some of the supplementation comes from inorganic sources. Too much supplementation is also detrimental to your horse. Vitamin A, copper and selenium can all be potentially toxic. Keep things balanced, and ask for help. You have a huge financial and emotional investment in your horse; both of you deserve some correct answers and help.

By themselves, vitamins will not provide energy to a horse, but they are necessary for the horse to properly utilize feed products. Vitamin supplements are not a cure-all for problems and many necessary vitamins are obtained by the horse through a balanced feed ration. However, for a horse in intense training, vitamins such as A, D and E and many of the B vitamins have either direct or indirect involvement in the metabolism. Vitamin E, thiamine and folic acid may have special roles in the metabolism of performance horses.

All of the vitamins are required for the general health and physical condition of horses and also have other important effects such as appetite stimulation and blood building. However, if overfed, these often cause toxicity problems and impair growth. Even though much of the requirement for vitamins will be supplied by natural ingredients in the diet or by synthesis by bacteria in the large intestine, their adequacy in the diets of performance horses should be assured by addition through a balanced feed or by nutritional supplements. It is important to realize that once the requirement for a vitamin is met, nothing is gained by adding more and can in fact be a detriment to your horse.

Minerals form the basis for the skeletal system, many hormones and enzymes, and are necessary for normal metabolic functions. As a rule, minerals are supplied in varying quantities by feed products and will depend on the soil and growing conditions, maturity of the plant when harvested, digestibility and availability of minerals and their interactions within the ration.Minerals such as calcium,phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and salt, as well as trace minerals such as iron, copper and selenium, all have either direct or indirect involvement in physiological pro-cesses taking place in performance horses. They should all be supplied in the diet as part of a balanced grain feed or as supplements added to the grain ration. Generally, a calcium-phosphorus source and trace mineral salt will satisfy most horses’ mineral requirements if they receive a well balanced ration of good quality feedstuffs. How-ever, there are areas of the country that have deficiencies of some minerals and excesses of others, so consult your local nutritionist about potential shortages or toxic influences.

Water is an extremely important nutrient to consider in feeding athletic horses; an adult horse will consume 10-20 gallons of water per day. The total amount of water needed increases dramatically when horses sweat due to high temperatures and humidity, especially when combined with hard work. In addition, horses consuming feeds such as alfalfa hay with high levels of protein and minerals also will have increased digestive water losses. The extra urination and sweating connected with ingesting such feeds may be detrimental to performance, especially when horses are already under heat stress. Therefore many trainers prefer to feed hays with low alfalfa content or only grass hay.

Also, in the winter, ice-free water sources can help you avoid unnecessary colic problems. If you frequently travel with your horses, you may consider adding a flavor to the water both at home and on the road to disguise differences in water quality.

Developing a feed ration is a complex chore, often varying greatly by region, the amount of work required of your horse and other factors. Below is a listing of nationally marketed feeds to help get you started. However, you should consult a local nutritionist as you develop your feeding program. This article is not designed to replace competent professional advisors; instead, it should be used as a means to encourage owners to ask questions and seek competent advice.

The companies and their feeds profiled below each have informative Web sites which may help you more accurately formulate the best feeds for your horse. Also, they each have multiple products that may be better suited to your horse depending on the type of forage you provide. It is important to work with a nutrition specialist in your area as well as representatives from these companies when determining which feed best suits your horse.

Manna Pro
Super Horse
Super Horse is line of products that has distinguished itself as one of America’s premier names in horse feeds. Its roots date back to the 1930s with the creation of Calf-Manna, a high quality, concentrated protein supplement. Today, all Super Horse feeds are uniquely formulated with Calf-Manna, Chelated Minerals, and Manna E, offering your horse total nutrition in one convenient package.

Only top quality ingredients have been used in Super Horse from the very beginning. Over the years, MannaPro has steadfastly refused Horse feeders have come to expect in every bag.

Quality ingredients cost more. Super Horse feeds contain a healthy mix of fat-increasing dietary energy density and decreasing the amount of required feed-as well as an exclusive microbial blend. So, while you’ll pay a little more per pound for a Super Horse product, since you don’t have to feed as much to your horses, it actually costs you less per head.

A less expensive bag of feed could be costing you hundreds of dollars more a year to feed.furthermore, because of Super Horse’s superior formulations, including Calf-Manna, Chelated Minerals, Manna E and high-quality vegetable oil, no additional nutrient supplements are needed, saving youeven more money by eliminating the need for costly supplements.

Here’s a closer look at what goes into Super Horse feeds and the benefits they provide for your horse:

Calf Manna Performance Supplement-A high quality protein supplement with multiple sources of protein is highly palatable to help keep stressed horses on feed and encourage consistent feed consumption.

Albion MAAC Chelated Minerals -Chelated copper, manganese, and zinc are included to reduce stress, improve immune response, and improve overall performance.

Manna E-An exclusive blend of yeast, probiotic bacteria, and enzymes, promotes optimal digestion.

High Quality Proteins and Supplemental Amino Acids-An appropriate balance of amino acids promotes the bone and muscle development your performance horse needs.

Vegetable Oils -An excellent source of energy and essential fatty acids, vegetable oils promote a shiny, slick hair coat.

Supplemental Biotin, Methionine, and Chelated Zinc-These nutrients are associated with improving overall hoof health, thus promoting soundness.

All-Natural Diamond V Yeast Culture-increases digestibility of the ration ingredients and improves palatability.

Manna Pro offers several feed mixtures for the performance horse at various stages. Below are the unique characteristics for Performance 10 as well as the guaranteed content analysis. Performance 10 Contains 6 percent fat, increasing dietary energy density and decreasing the amount of feed required. It is available as a pelleted or textured feed in grass hay or Alfalfa formulations.

Manna Pro’s Super Horse Performance 10 Guaranteed Analysis

Calcium Min 0.70 %

Calcium Max 1.20 %

Crude Fat Min 6.00 %

Crude Fiber Max 7.00 %

Crude Protein Min 10.00 %

Lysine Min 0.55 %

Methionine Min 0.25 %

Phosphorus Min 0.60 %

Copper Min 50 ppm

Manganese Min 175 ppm

Selenium Min 0.60 ppm

Zinc Min 200 ppm

Vitamin A Min 5,000 IU/lb

Vitamin D3 Min 375 IU/lb

Vitamin E Min 80 IU/lb

Biotin Min 0.50 mg/lb

Guarantees for Alfa formulas are the same as the corresponding grass formula with the following exceptions:

Calcium Min 0.20 %

Calcium Max 0.70 %

Phosphorus Min 0.70 %

Purina Mills

Purina’s Strategy® was formu-lated for the professional horse operation. Through patented manufacturing techniques, Strategy® meets your needs, from maintenance to efficient breeding to winning performances. It releases a controlled energy and protein required to repair muscles and enhance endurance that horses need while maintaining a pronounced calming effect. It helps keep muscles working at the peak while providing horses with stamina, improved performance and great coat and body condition.

Purina Mills also offers several other feeding solutions for the performance horse. Below is the guaranteed content analysis of Strategy.

Strategy Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein, % not less than 14%

Fat, % not less than 6.0%

Fiber, % not more than 8%

Calcium, min% not less than 0.6%

Calcium, max% not more than 0.9%

Phosphorus, min% not less than 0.6%

Copper, ppm not less than 55

Zinc, ppm not less than 220

Vit. A, IU/lb not less than 3000

Selenium, ppm not less than 0.6

Woody’s Performance Feeds

Dominator/C, the pelleted vitamin and mineral supplement for performance and sport horses, is designed to supply exceptional nutritional inputs to produce a payback that more than justifies the cost.Woody’s Performance Horse Feeds believes in success and knows they succeed only if their customers’ horses do.According to the manufacturer, Dominator/C is advanced nutrition for the equine athlete with a complete profile of B-vitamins in the correct ratio and optimum levels for peak performance.

In addition, it is fine-tuned for the unique physiological function and high level of activity of the sport horse, contains chromium and maximizes the nutritional value of natural feedstuffs while simplifying the horses total ration program. Finally, Dominator/C puts in the extra potency needed when growth or performance demands are heavy, while providing nutrients for optimal metabolic functions under the demands and conditions associated with intense activity.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein min 8.0%

Lysine min 0.58%

Methionine min 0.79%

Crude Fat min 3.0%

Crude Fiber, max 6.5%

Calcium,(Ca) min 5.50%

Calcium,(Ca) max 6.50%

Phosphorus (P) min 4.20%

Salt (NaCl) min 2.0%

Salt (NaCl) max 2.4%

Magnesium (Mg) min 3.7%

Potassium (K) min 0.63%

Copper (Cu) min .1000 ppm

Selenium (Se) min 8.0 ppm

Zinc (Zn) min 3000 ppm

Vitamin A min 66,000 IU/lb.

Vitamin D3 min 13,800 IU/lb.

Vitamin E min 2040 IU/lb

Vitamin B12 min 2800 mcg/lb

Vitamin K (menadione activity),

min 24 mg/lb

Choline, min 5600 mg/lb.

Chromium 2 ppm

Buckeye Feeds
Buckeye Alfa Plus Performer

Buckeye is a company that has firm roots in nutrition. Their brands are developed and researched by equine-specific Ph.D.’s who have university and field experience. Buckeye Alfa Plus Performer is a fortified grain mix available in texture or pelleted forms. It is specifically formulated for mature, performing horses. Because of the improved digestibility of Alfa Plus Performer, less pounds per day need to be fed, when compared to other horse feed. Remember to increase the amount of alfalfa hay when you feed less Alfa Plus Performer. Adjust the pounds of Alfa Plus Performer fed daily according to the desired weight of your horse. The maximum amount to feed/feeding is 5 lbs/1000 lbs of body weight.According to Buckeye, the feed contains these features:

• Feed with alfalfa hay with an RFV above 103

• Steam crimped grains improve digestibility

• Amino acid balanced for muscle function & development

• Higher vitamin E for improved muscle function

• Added vegetable oil for efficient energy source & higher caloric density

• Nutrient balanced for superior hoof quality

• Balanced Omega-3 fatty acids for improved hair coat

• Fortified with Alfa Gro’N Win

In addition to Alfa Plus Performer, Buckeye carries many other feeds that may better suit your the needs of your horse. Below is the Alfa Plus Performer Guaranteed Analysis.

Alfa Plus Performer
Guaranteed Analysis:

Crude Protein, Min 10.00%

Lysine, Min 0.50%

Crude Fat, Min 6.00%

Crude Fiber, Max 7.00%

Starch, Actual 43.00%

NFC, Actual 50.00%

Calcium, Min 0.20%

Calcium, Max 0.70%

Phosphorus, Min 0.60%

Potassium (K), Min 0.50%

Copper, Min 50 ppm

Zinc, Min 140 ppm

Selenium, Min 0.6 ppm

Vitamin A, Min 6000 IU/lb

Vitamin D, Min 600 IU/lb

Vitamin E, Min 100 IU/lb

Nutrena Feeds
Vitality 10

A horse, like a car, runs on fuel. But unlike the gasoline in your car, your horse’s feed serves many

different functions. Biotin helps strengthen the hooves. Calcium, phosphorus, zinc and copper strengthen the bones. Vitamin E plays a role in keeping the muscles running. It’s not easy to get everything in a world-class horse working together in perfect synchronization at the perfect time. But winners know that it happens. And when it happens, it’s a beautiful thing to see.

To this end, Nutrena encourages a well-planned training regimen, consistency in the horse’s diet, optimizing intake and building endurance by pushing-but not exceeding-the redline to maximize performance.

To meet those goals, Nutrena carries several feed formulations. Below are the features of their Vitality 10 product, as well as a guaranteed analysis of that product.

Vitality 10 has increased fat to provide energy for improved performance and increased endurance, guaranteed lysine levels to provide essential amino acids for protein utilization. In addition, it has guaranteed biotin & methionine levels to support hoof and hair growth, and enhanced vitamin E and selenium levels to provide antioxidant benefits for training and competition.

As with all of Nutrena’s feeds, Vitality 10 has carefully formulated calcium, phosphorus, copper and zinc levels to support bone growth and maintenance. It provides copper, zinc, manganese, and cobalt in a chelated form (organic trace mineral complex) for high bio-availability, as well as yeast added to aid in fiber digestion.

Vitality 10 Guaranteed Analysis (min. amounts except where noted)

Crude Protein 10.0%

Lysine 0.55%

Methionine 0.25%

Crude Fat 6.0%

Crude Fiber max. 7.0%

Calcium min. 0.7%

Calcium max. 1%

Phosphorus 0.7%

Copper 40 ppm

Zinc 140 ppm

Selenium 0.5 ppm

Vitamin A 6,000 IU/lb

Vitamin D 350 IU/lb

Vitamin E 80 IU/lb

Biotin 0.45 mg/lb

ADM Alliance
Patriot Performance Horse Feeds

ADM Alliance promotes what they call the Forage First Nutritional Pyramid to enhance health and performance. It is a balanced blend of their products, which fit your horse best, into a total feeding program. To begin, they point out forage, or hay, is the primary ingredient.

Because of the horse’s unique digestive system, forage must be the first component of the nutritional pyramid. The fiber in forage keeps the digestive tract functioning properly, and with the help of bacteria in the hindgut, provides energy, protein, and vitamins to the horse.

Next, ADM promotes the addition of their mineral and vitamin products required for proper digestion and utilization of forages and grains. Unfortunately, even the best forages are deficient in some minerals and vitamins- so your feeding program must provide an adequate supply. Their GROSTRONG mineral products are specially formulated to provide 27 vitamins, minerals and electrolytes in the correct proportions to complement forages and grains.

Adding to the mix is ADM’s concentrated energy supplements. According to company research, fats provide more energy per pound, are digested more efficiently, and decrease the thermal load in working horses compared to grains. ADM’s PowerGlo is especially formulated for performance horses.

Finally, fortified feeds complete the recipe. They are quality concentrate feeds that contain specialized vitamins and minerals for horses. Patriot Performance Horse feeds are formulated using the newest scientific data. They contain quality grains, added fat, prosponse yeast supplement, and GROSTRONG minerals.

Guaranteed Analysis varies with the mix.

ACCO Feeds
Safe & Sound

Cargill Animal Nutrition, makers of ACCO FEEDS, is proud to introduce the new safe-energy formula Safe & Sound. The latest innovation from an industry leader who has consistently provided the highest quality, nutritionally balanced, premium equine products on the market, Safe & Sound is high in fat and fiber, but low in starch and sugar with balanced protein and nutrient levels making it the ideal feed for broodmares (whether lactating or in their last trimester) and foals as well as performance horses, hard keepers, and stallions in the breeding season-all with the reduced risk of colic, laminitis, tying up (azoturia), and growth and developmental abnormalities in young horses, known as Developmental Orthopedic Disease (DOD).

In short, Safe & Sound is easy for customers to use, safe for all horses in whatever their stage of growth, while at the same time providing the necessary energy to maintain performance levels.

Safe & Sound was developed with the help of Jim Ward, DVM. “While colic can have many causes, it is predominately a man-made, diet-related condition resulting, in many instances, from excessive starch and inadequate fiber intake,” says Ward. “When I’d get a call about a horse who’d been up all night rolling around in pain, I felt there was a good chance it could have been prevented with proper feeding management.” As it turned out, his beliefs were right in line with what the ACCO research program was all about, so in 2000 he joined the team as an Equine Management Consultant to provide his expertise in the field of nutritional care so as to “help make a difference.” The team spent three years formulating Safe & Sound. By combining the right balance of nutrients for energy and performance that also would be safe enough to protect sensitive digestive systems and delicate limbs, they knew they were on to something. Now available to everyone who has an abiding devotion to their horses’ health, Safe & Sound, veterinarian formulated and recommended, is the one product that can do it all.

Safe & Sound Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein Min 14.00%

Lysine Min 0.80%

Methionine Min 0.30%

Threonine Min 0.50%

Crude Fat Min 7.00%

Crude Fiber Min 15.00%

Calcium Min 0.90%

Max 1.20%

Phosphorous Min 0.75%

Copper Min 50 ppm

Zinc Min 160 ppm

Selenium Min 0.6 ppm

Vitamin A Min 3,500 IU/LB

Vitamin D Min 350 IU/LB

Vitamin E Min 100 IU/LB

Biotin Min .45 MG/LB


Related Articles
closeup of horse legs
Horse Health
Pain in the Performance
A mare and foal walk through a green pasture
Rope Horse Breeding 101
working on that fitness
Define Fit
Broc Cresta
Never Forgotten
Broc Cresta: The Legend Lives On
Untitled design-14
5 Things J.D. Yates Did to Raise a Winner in Trey