What is the best feeding practice for horses before competition exercise or a hard training session? There is no real consensus on this issue and, similar to the field of human performance nutrition, there are many opinions on what is best. Some trainers will withhold all feed, some will decrease the amount of hay fed, and others will increase the amount of grain or other high-energy feed provided. These strategies are aimed at extracting the very best performance from the horse on the big day. Others argue that horses function best when there are minimal changes in routine, and favor no change in feeding practices.

Who’s right? In part, the answer depends on the type of exercise to be undertaken, i.e., the best strategy for an endurance or three-day event horse is likely different from that best applied to the Thoroughbred racehorse. In all situations, however, there are two main considerations. First, how will a particular feeding strategy affect the availability of energy for physical work? Second, does that strategy have a positive or negative effect on performance and health?

Maximize Energy Stores

The first question to address when discussing pre-competition feeding management is, “Why should the horse’s diet be altered?” We are all 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 diet are never recommended. On the other hand, more subtle alterations in management and feeding practices can be safely used to maximize the horse’s fuel stores and optimize