When and what should I feed my horse before exercise? This question is very familiar to equine nutritionists, and generally sparks considerable debate about feeding management of horses prior to competition. While it generally is agreed that feeding practices before competition exercise have an important bearing on performance, there is little consensus as to what is most beneficial. Indeed, several surveys of horse trainers and owners have indicated that the horse’s diet usually is altered on the day of competition. However, the nature of this change in diet varies greatly. Some trainers will withhold all feed, some will decrease the amount of hay fed, while others will increase the amount of grain or other high-energy feed.

So, just what is the best feeding practice for horses before competition exercise? As you might expect, there is no easy answer to this question, and probably no one approach is optimal. Of greatest importance is the type of exercise required of the horse–pre-exercise feeding management of the Thoroughbred or Standardbred racehorse will differ from that of an endurance horse.

In this article, we will consider how feeding affects energy metabolism during exercise and provide recommendations for feeding different types of horses.

Is Change Good?

The first question to address when discussing pre-competition feeding management is "why should the horse’s diet be altered?" We all are aware of the potential perils associated with rapid alterations in the horse’s diet or pattern of feeding–such changes can precipitate digestive upsets and colic. Thus, drastic changes in