We are now a month away from the early spring one-day events and fittening work for horses contesting early competitions after a winter break should be well underway, as it takes between 10-12 weeks to get a horse fully fit.
Any fittening programme should allow ample time for bone, muscle and ligaments to strengthen for the demands they will face in competition.
Feeding strategies for the early season depend on how the horse has come out of the winter. By and large, a low-energy feed at 3-4kg per day is fine.
If your horse is looking rather lean at the end of the cold wet winter a conditioning feed, mixed 50:50 with normal feed, should help the horse regain lost condition and aid muscle development throughout the fittening programme.
When considering your horse’s feed for the coming season, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your aims? What will the horse be doing?
- Did the horse go well on its diet last year?
- Does the horse hold or lose condition easily?
- Is the horse susceptible to any diet-related ailments?
- What is the quality of the forage you are feeding?
- Can the diet be improved? If in doubt, contact a nutritionist
Do’s and don’ts
- Do decide what to feed for the season ahead
- Do ensure you have a good supply of consistent quality forage
- Do choose feeds for early fittening and competition based on the horse’s temperament, condition and work level
- Do choose supplements after forage and hard feed
- Don’t bring the horse up too quickly
- Don’t cut forage back as hard feed increases – look for ways to maximise forage in the diet
- Don’t use supplements without checking if they are suitable for use under FEI rules
This article was originally published in Horse & Hound (5 February).