Most endurance rides range in distance from 20 miles to 150 miles. Depending on the terrain, distance, and the speed at which the horse is ridden, endurance rides can take anywhere from three to 24 hours to complete. Given the amount of time necessary to complete an endurance ride, there is a tremendous opportunity for nutrition to influence the performance of an endurance horse. In addition, endurance horses are routinely rested and fed during the ride, further increasing the potential for nutrition to impact performance. Feeding the endurance horse does not need to be complicated. Several nutrients are critical since they directly influence the ability of the horse to complete the ride. The critical nutrients to consider include energy, electrolytes, and water.
Energy provides the calories necessary for muscle contraction which ultimately allows the horse to move. Energy is obtained from several dietary sources that are broken down within the digestive system. Endurance horses metabolize starch, fat, fiber, and protein to form energy.
The primary source of starch in the horses’ diet originates from grain. Starch is broken down in the small intestine and absorbed as glucose. The glucose is then stored as muscle and liver glycogen that can be broken down during exercise to fuel muscle contraction. Care must be taken to ensure that too much starch (grain) is not fed in a single meal since large grain meals can result in digestive upset. Hygain utilizes state of the art micronizing technology to break down starch molecules in cereal grains making them more available for digestion and much safer to feed to the horse. HYGAIN RELEASE® is a non-oat micronized sweet feed scientifically formulated to provide the fuel and essential nutrients required for optimum performance that is required in a discipline like endurance.
Vegetable oils, such as rice bran oil, are among the most common sources of fat in the horse’s diet. Fat has the advantage of being a very concentrated energy source, containing 2.25 times as much energy as an equal weight of maize, oats, or barley. Fat is a popular ingredient in the diets for endurance horses since it is highly digestible, provides a large number of calories per amount fed, and it does not result in digestive upset. Fat is particularly useful in keeping horses from becoming too thin.
Fiber, such as hay, is another source of energy for the endurance horse. Fiber is fermented by bacteria in the back portion of the digestive system, and forms end products that the horse converts to energy. Fiber is critical to the health of the endurance horse since fiber stimulates the horse to drink water and helps to maintain digestive function. Fiber also serves as a fluid and electrolyte reserve for the endurance horse. New fibers are now being utilized in endurance horse’s diets which contain even more calories than hay. These fiber sources are called Super Fibers and include such things as lupin hulls, beet pulp, and soybean hulls.
Protein can be utilized as an energy source, but it is inefficient and results in the accumulation of ammonia which must be urinated out of the body. This increased urination puts even more stress on the ability of the endurance horse to drink enough water.
WATER & ELECTROLYTES
Water and electrolytes are also critical dietary components for the endurance horse. Endurance horses cool themselves by dissipating heat through sweat. This results in both loss of fluid and electrolytes. Both of these components must be replaced if the horse is going to continue exercising as endurance horses do in a long ride. It is standard for endurance horses to have multiple opportunities to drink water. In fact, water should never be restricted for endurance horses.
Electrolytes are charged particles, including sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. These particles control, among other things, nerve and muscle function in the body. Loss of electrolytes causes fatigue, muscle weakness, and decreases the thirst response from dehydration. Therefore, it is vital to replace electrolyte losses in endurance horses. HYGAIN REGAIN® is a rapid electrolyte replacer that is specifically formulated to replace body salts lost during exercise and acts as an aid in the treatment of dehydration, hypochloremia, and alkalosis.
Are you unsure if your endurance horse’s diet is fueling their needs?
Reach out for expert help from Nutrikey. The free diet analysis service offered by Nutrikey is easy and accessible to all. The nutritionists at Nutrikey can review your horse’s current diet, taking into account your horse’s lifestyle and lifestage. They don’t just let you know about “gaps” in your horse’s diet, -they also provide a diet plan to get your horse on the right track!