A Look Back at the Feeding of Performance Horses

Find out how feeding recommendations and diets for performance horses have changed over the years.

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When considering the “performance” horse, images of racing, polo and grand prix jumping come to mind. However, there are many levels of performance to consider, rather than just the elite athlete. Performance horse feeding goes back to ancient Roman times, because even thousands of years ago people realized horses needed additional energy to “perform” in war. Despite this long history of feeding equine athletes, a dramatic increase in knowledge of nutrition has occurred in the past 20 years. 

David Marlin, PhD, founder of Science Supplements, described those changes at the University of Maryland’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ 2016 Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference, held March 23-24, in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Have feeding recommendations changed? 

In the last 50-plus years, it’s safe to say that the anatomy and physiology of the horse’s gastrointestinal system hasn’t changed—evolution doesn’t work that fast. What has changed is our knowledge about equine nutrition, along with an increase in the prevalence of nutrition-related problems, such as obesity. Changes in feeding practices have likely altered the microbiome of the equine hindgut, although it is difficult to track these changes precisely.

Despite what’s known, different commercial grain concentrates (in similar categories) in the United Kingdom varied widely in the amounts of digestible energy, protein, Vitamin A, and other nutrients they contained. The formulas between products varied, with some being well-over-nutrient recommendations and others falling below. This is important, said Marlin, because “what we feed horses does have an effect on how they perform

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Written by:

Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, is an equine nutritionist based on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied equine exercise physiology and nutrition. Liburt is a member of the Equine Science Society.

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