Much like human athletes, performance horses have special nutritional needs. And with all athletes, it’s important for diets to match activity and athletic level, to reach the highest level of achievement.

“These six tips may help you to supply your horse with adequate energy to support optimal performance,” says Katie Young, PhD, an equine nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition.

1. Know if your horse is performing anaerobic or aerobic exercise.

Physical activity is broken into two general categories—aerobic and anaerobic—and it can be helpful to understand the science.

Anaerobic exercise, characterized by short bursts of maximum effort, is primarily fueled by glycogen, a polysaccharide which is composed of sugars and stored in muscle fibers. Soluble carbohydrates from the diet provide the building blocks for glycogen.

Imagine a competitive cutting horse with agility, quick reactions and strength. A horse like this would be primarily engaged in anaerobic exercise while they’re working a cow. Racehorses, even Thoroughbreds running a mile and a half, are also highly anaerobic while they’re running. Such activity depends on a diet providing adequate soluble carbohydrates for storing and replenishing muscle glycogen needed to fuel these short, intense exercise bouts.

Aerobic exercise, characterized by low- to moderate-intensity activity lasting several minutes to several hours, is primarily fueled by fat. A slow-burning fuel, fat can be perfect for keeping the horse going for the long haul.

Three-day eventing, polo, dressage, and endurance