How has your feeding regime changed over time?

Lady Clarke (Sue, Polly’s mum): I was brought up to feed barley, oats, flaked maize and good-quality bran, and with a yard full it took hours to make up the feeds. It was probably the difficulty of getting decent bran that started my conversion, but Polly’s young rider horse Poggio finished it off.

He was difficult to feed because he lacked Thoroughbred blood, so needed to be extra fit. But he could get unmanageable with too much hard food. As part of the young rider programme then, we were asked to write down everything we fed the horses. It turned out I was feeding the horse within half a megajoule of his energy requirement, but I felt there had to be a better way of getting to that point. Since then we’ve changed to Baileys and it’s taken away all the guesswork.

In terms of routine, we have always fed our horses twice a day, with a 7am feed and haylage, more haylage through the morning and then a 5pm feed. If they’re in strenuous work they also get an extra 10pm feed. With competition commitments, it is difficult to stick to a regular lunchtime feed. This cuts down on their stress because they don’t expect to be fed every time they see us. We find they relax and rest well.

Which products make up the bulk of your feeds?

Sue: The majority of the horses are on Baileys No 4 cubes, which are well “cooked” and don’t fizz them up. We switched about five years ago — it made complete sense and has made feeding a lot less complicated. We also feed apples and carrots. The horses who don’t get a 10pm feed are given an apple until our home-grown ones run out, then we switch to carrots.

Do you use supplements?

Sue: Yes, but not across the board. By feeding a cube you are giving a complete feed and it is not always necessary. But our horses always get limestone to assist with foot growth and help prevent tying up.

I always make sure the horses get copper, although I don’t feed it as a supplement — I check it’s there as a trace element in the feed. It affects the way they absorb the goodness from their feed. After all, what you feed is irrelevant if the horses don’t convert it into useful energy.

They also have cider vinegar, which we buy in bulk from the local feed merchant, as well as Equiform’s Xlint, Easijoint and Electrolytes as and when they need it. Depending on the consistency they get a dollop, a slurp or a shake.

They also get sugarbeet unless they are a bit “hot” because it can fire them up.

Tessa, Polly’s sister: All the horses have lumps of rock salt in their mangers. It slows down their eating and if they do want the rock salt, it’s always there. We also used to give Polly’s advanced horse The Tonka Toy garlic as he was close to having sweet itch. It definitely helped him.

Do you feed hay or haylage?

Polly: We feed haylage, which we make ourselves off old pasture so it’s full of goodness. We make it fairly moist and analyse it every year so we know exactly what’s in it. It has a high feed value so we don’t need to give as much hard feed as we would otherwise. We also give the horses that are turned out for a break ad-lib access to haylage in a cattle ring.

Tessa: The point-to-pointers get less haylage than the eventers. We mostly feed them the No 4 cubes, but we step them up to the racehorse mix as they get nearer to running. We are more careful with mares, though, because the higher protein of the racehorse mix doesn’t always suit them.

Have you had to tempt a fussy eater?

Sue: You have to play it by ear with every horse. Often it is just a question of observing a horse and making minor adjustments. You need to learn when they want to eat, as it can be about timing rather than ingredients. For example, it was a waste of time feeding Jonathan’s advanced eventer Christmas in the morning because he wouldn’t touch anything.

Polly: The advanced horses I have in at the moment are all different. Sir Lancelot VI eats fine as long as he has privacy. Tangle Man has a mirror to keep him company — he’s much more settled and eats better with his “non-aggressive and non-threatening friend” in evidence. Tom Quigley is similar to Christmas, in that he does not eat well in the morning.

Sue: With a fussy feeder, never overface it by giving too much, and be careful about removing any trace of old feed from the manger. I find sprinkling the feed with a bit of one of the cool mixes can persuade the horse to eat better, or I put on a bit of grated carrot.

Do you turn out daily?

Sue: Where possible, but only for an hour. We are on clay soil, so it is either wet in winter or rock hard in summer and it isn’t always practical.

Do you have any feeding bugbears?

Sue: My pet hate is seeing horses starved into a fit profile. A horse can be hard fit and still have a decent topline, or it can be as thin as a rake but very unfit. Also, it drives me mad when people give horses food to stop them banging the door — it just teaches them to do it more.

What is the most difficult aspect of feeding for so many different jobs?

Sue: Having good haylage makes the job much easier, but I am paranoid about keeping feed separate. The FEI and Jockey Club rules are very strict and the list of prohibited substances is comprehensive. I have special buckets for mixing feeds for horses on medication, for example, if they’re on bute following an injury

How do you feed horses on long journeys?

Polly: They all have a net of haylage while we’re travelling, but never more than their usual ration. If it is very hot we’ll give them electrolytes by syringe and offer them water at regular intervals.

Finally, any useful feeding tips?

Sue: Don’t expect a supplement or feed to work miracles overnight. The enzymes in the horse’s gut have to get geared up to breaking down that particular feed effectively before it can begin to work. Expect to wait a few weeks before you start to notice the difference.

  • This feeding feature was first published in Horse & Hound (13 October ’06)
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