The nutritional needs of the endurance horse are somewhat unique compared to horses used for other athletic disciplines. The metabolic demands of endurance racing (including competitive trail riding and ride and tie events) are high, requiring the horse to draw heavily upon his energy reserves to fuel muscle contraction and other body functions during exercise. As well, very large sweat fluid losses mandate aggressive replacement strategies to keep the horse hydrated during this extended exercise. Most importantly, we know that depletion of energy reserves, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances can all contribute to poor performance and fatigue during endurance exercise. Therefore, optimal endurance exercise performance is critically dependent on sound nutritional management.

In this article, we will discuss feeding the endurance athlete, emphasizing the nutrients of greatest importance, as well as feeding management before, during, and after events.

Athletic Demands

Endurance racing, competitive trail rides, and ride and tie competitions are extremely popular equine sports. Currently, the American Endurance Riding Conference (AERC) sanctions more than 700 rides each year throughout North America. This popularity has spread worldwide–in 1978 the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) recognized endurance racing as an international sport, and in 1993 endurance racing became the fifth discipline under the United States Equestrian Team (USET). In the early years of international competition, teams from the United States and Canada were dominant. Today, however, teams from several countries–notably France, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and New Zealand–are extremely competitive. This intense competition has “raised the bar” in terms of the athletic demands placed on the successful endurance horse.

These demands are highly dependent on race distance, course footing and terrain, and