The rules of good feeding state “feed according to work done”, so if you are planning to give your horse a holiday at the end of the season, you will need to cut his feed accordingly. However, there’s little factual advice on how to do this.
The main reason for cutting feed is to reduce the calorific and, more specifically, the starch and sugar component of the diet, to avoid excitability or muscle problems, particularly for horses susceptible to heritable forms of the condition widely known as tying-up or ERS.
There are four common ways of feeding on rest days:
- a bran mash
- cut the feed by half
- replace it with equal poundage of a low-energy feed
- keep it the same
To keep the horse’s feed the same as normal is foolhardy, unless the horse usually operates off little hard feed (ie 3-4lb).
Bran has a reasonable energy content, supplied mainly from fibre. This is what has made it so popular as a feed for days off and after hunting — in feeding it, you supply fibre, without starch. It is also light in weight and palatable, which is great for tempting a tired horse to eat.
But feeding solely bran on a day off also means a drastic cut in key amino acids, vitamins and minerals and antioxidants, just at a time when a horse needs them for tissue repair after exertion.
Replacing the feed with an equal weight of a lower-energy feed makes sense because the horse keeps eating his usual amount. However, the ingredient composition of low-energy feeds is different to that of high-energy ones.
Therefore halving the usual feed is the best option because there is no major dietary change, but the ingredients in the digestive system also don’t alter.
Top tips for holiday hunger
- Cutting the feed by 50% in a diet for a competition horse cuts the energy by nearly 30%, and the starch level drops by nearly 50%
- Feed an extra slice of hay or turn the horse out to maintain dietary fibre levels
- Turning out on fresh, lush pasture may provide just the kind of high nutrition you are trying to avoid — ie too much sugar
- Keep supplies of micronutrients up — if the hard feed doesn’t contain enough at the reduced level, add a broad-spectrum supplement
- Use probiotics tactically: their use could be beneficial in helping the gut return to normality
This article was published in the current (9 October) issue of Horse & Hound. Don’t miss this Thursday’s Feed Forum which focuses on the role of selenium in the diet.