feeding traveling horses

Whether you’re moving your horse across the county due to a work relocation or flying him across the world to compete at the World Equestrian Games, feeding traveling horses can be a challenging endeavor.

When a Horse’s Regular Diet isn’t Available

One of the most common issues is what to feed if your horse’s normal diet isn’t available at your destination. I’ve recently been asked this question twice: Once from a client moving out of state to a situation very different than the one she is leaving and again from a top international rider taking her U.S.-based horse to compete at last weekend’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, in England. My approach to both situations was similar.

In both cases the horses had been consuming diets that were meeting their needs for at least a year, if not longer. Obviously, both owners felt concern about making a change. In the case of the horse moving out of state, the barn style and management was going to be very different, and her regional concentrate feed would no longer be available. The horse had had a history of gastric distress, which the current diet had resolved, so understandably the owner had concerns about making significant changes. The good news was that she had reached out for advice two months prior to her expected move date so she had time to formulate a well-thought-out plan.

The horse traveling to Burghley had other challenges: Not only was the concentrate feed not available, but there are also restrictions on moving feed from the United States into the destination country, in this case England. So, while they’d not be gone for long, taking feed from home on the trip wouldn’t work.

So, in both cases, we had to look at the current diets and feeds in some detail, analyzing ingredient lists and nutrient levels and then looking for feeds that would be as similar as possible at their destinations.

Ingredient Issues

Traveling to a different countries has an added challenge: Often, countries around the world rely on very different feed ingredients. For example, in Australia you will see feeds containing lupins and beans, something you won’t see in the United States. Processing techniques also differ. In Australia and the United Kingdom, for example, you might see micronized grains, whereas this technique is uncommon in the United States.

To confuse even more there are the same ingredients called different things, such maize flakes, which are flaked corn, or pony nuts, which have nothing to do with tree nuts and aren’t just for ponies. They are essentially low-calorie pellets traditionally fed to ponies, but now feed to many easy keepers.

feeding traveling horses

Finding Feeds

It takes a good amount of time and a familiarity with a wide range of products to determine the best feed substations in situations like this. The solution might be a bit complicated, as in the case of the Burghley horse, where we needed a couple of feeds to recreate (as closely as possible) what the horse ate at home. While the complexity might not be something you’d want to live with long term, it’s likely worth the hassle as a short-term solution.

Maintaining the dietary status quo results in a huge amount of planning prior to events such as the World Equestrian or Olympic games. It’s no small feat to bring in hundreds of horses from all over the world and meet their dietary needs. Planning starts months, if not over a year, before surveying attending team coordinators to find out the types of feeds their competitors will need. Efforts are made to try and accommodate all the needs of the various horses, which can be very broad given the range of disciplines and countries of origin.

Teams know ahead of time what feeds will and won’t be available, which can allow them to start making adjustments at home before they leave. Some teams might work to bring in their own feed, booking shipping containers to move products to the destination, but this is very expensive and complicated due to border requirements and security screenings.

Finding quality forage in some destinations can also be a challenge and hay was shipped from the U.S. Pacific Northwest for a number of past Olympic Games.

Then there are the little things, the icing on the cake, like having enough available carrots with which to spoil the equine athletes. How do you ensure there are carrots available when they might not be grown locally to the competition?

The Bottom Line

These are all details that have been coordinated and planned in the run up to this year’s World Equestrian Games to ensure that every horse competing is able to do so at their very best with the least disruption to their regular routine.

Whether you’re taking your horse on a back-country vacation, moving out of state, or traveling to compete in foreign lands, the key is not to assume that they’ll have the feed you want once you get there.

Plan early. For short trips if possible take your forage and concentrate rations with you. Try to take a small amount with you to wean on to a new diet when longer term changes are needed and determine what you can feed that is the most similar to what you are currently feeding.

With this level of attention to detail and forward planning you can help avoid gastrointestinal distress and keep your horse performing at his very best when it matters most.