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Feeding natives for endurance

Q: When I bought my 14hh 12-year-old Dales pony two years ago, he was fat and unfit with a large crest. He has now lost around 50kg and looks really well and I’m aiming to try some long distance rides with him. What is the ideal weight for his breed? Could you suggest a suitable feeding regime?

Nutritionist Christine Smy replies: Dales ponies are not immediately associated with endurance riding but, once fit and correctly trained, they shouldn’t have any problems covering the distances required of endurance horses.

The Dales breed has proved its worth as an excellent trekking pony, proving great stamina over rugged terrain.

The average height of a Dales pony is around 14.2hh. Being a native breed, many are prone to excess weight gain, similar to the problem you have had with your pony, but the average Dales should weigh around 450kg.

Estimate his weight by regularly condition scoring. The use of a weigh tape is more beneficial to determine weight gain or weight loss rather than to calculate correct weight.

When looking for a suitable feed, bear in mind it should encourage your pony’s natural stamina. Look out for a concentrate feed high in digestible fibre as these products are digested slowly to produce a long-lasting energy source.

Avoid high starch cereal mixes as these tend to be digested quickly, over a short period, and may leave your pony short of energy if he’s working over long distances.

If you decide to feed a chaff, choose one which will provide a good nutritional value such as dried grass or alfalfa. The addition of soaked sugar beet pulp will give a good source of fibre and will also help to keep your pony hydrated.

Many endurance riders are now adding oil to the diet as it is a great slow-release energy provider and is very palatable and easily absorbed. Feed this in the form of soya, corn or sunflower oil and up to a coffee cupful a day.

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