Choosing an Equine Performance Feed for Peak Results

Choosing an Equine Performance Feed for Peak Results

As a horse owner, one of your main priorities is ensuring your companion is healthy and well-fed. But if you’re looking to improve your horse’s performance, you’ll likely have to look beyond basic nutrition.

When feeding for performance, you should take a few factors into consideration, including your horse’s discipline, competition level and energy needs, along with their age, weight and breed. In this article, we’ll explore methods from our equine nutritionists to ensure your horse is getting the right nutrition to support top performance.

Step one in developing a performance feeding plan is understanding your horse’s energy needs. The amount of calories your horse needs to support the activity they’re doing and maintain their body condition will vary depending on the intensity and duration of their workouts, along with their metabolism.

What’s in your horse’s forage? That’s your starting point.

High-quality forage is essential for all horses, so it’s important to know the type and nutritional value of your hay and pasture before you consider adding performance feed or supplements to their diet. Nutrient levels, including calories in your horse’s forage, can vary greatly depending on the type and quality.

Many folks blame a drop in their horse's performance or body condition on feed when it’s really the quality of hay, forage or pasture that’s changed. To get your forage tested, contact your local feed store. They’ll often be able to hook you up with a field representative from a feed company like Kent Nutrition Group to take a sample. Keep in mind it’s important to provide a good representative sample from several bales of hay for accurate measurements.

A high-fat horse feed provides performance energy.

Once you understand your horse's energy needs, and how their forage fits into the equation, the next step is choosing the right performance feed.

There are usually three nutrient percentages you’ll look for: protein, fat and fiber. Fat is a dense source of caloric energy that helps improve endurance and stamina, while protein is essential for muscle growth, development and maintenance. Fiber supports digestive health and provides additional energy as it’s broken down by millions of microbes in a horse’s large intestine.

One important note as you look for the right feed—not every situation is cut-and-dry. The type and amount of feed your horse requires may change depending on a variety of factors, as discussed earlier.

In general, for a performance horse working at a moderate to intense level, our equine nutritionists recommend a feed that contains at least 8 to 10% fat, along with adequate protein and a quality fiber source. Keep an eye out for super-nutritious fiber ingredients like soy hulls and beet pulp—they contain more energy value than good-quality forage.

Another thing to consider is the amount of starch and sugar, and finding the right balance to meet your horse’s specific nutritional and performance needs. For some disciplines, like racing, more starch and sugar are needed to get the best performance. When feeding more starch and sugar, it is important not to overload the system at one time. Feeding smaller meals more often throughout the day helps keep a horse’s digestive system healthy and functioning properly. Overloading the system with too much starch and sugar can contribute to ulcers in some horses.

Extruded horse feed may support nutrient absorption and digestive health.

To meet your performance horse’s specific needs, Sentinel® extruded horse feeds include several formulas with low starch and sugar and high-fat and fiber.

These characteristics of extruded feeds are crucial for horses that have digestive or metabolic challenges and for performance horses, which often need large amounts of feed, so their digestive system isn’t overloaded with too much starch and sugar.

Unlike horse pellets, the ingredients in extruded formulas are pressure-cooked, formed and rapidly cooled to create a light, airy nugget. The process delivers more nutrition by weight, which provides digestive benefits, like improved nutrient absorption.

Research has also shown that heat from extrusion increases the digestibility of starch and protein, and that high temperature in combination with high moisture, results in the greatest digestibility.1 Increased digestibility optimizes nutrient availability and utilization to the horse.

Overall, extruded formulas are great for all horses, but especially for hard-working performance horses. Depending on your horse’s activity level, consider an extruded horse feed like Sentinel Performance LS, Active Senior, Grow & Excel or LifeTime. Each are made with low starch and sugar ingredients with high levels of fat and fiber to support equine athletes.

1 National Research Council. 2007. Nutrient Requirements of Horses 6th rev. ed. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

You’ll find another option in our Sentinel XT™ products, which incorporate shredded beet pulp with high amounts of fat, and extruded super-fiber nuggets. Sentinel XT Pro and XT Show are both textured horse feed formulas that combine high levels of fat and fiber to support stamina in performance horses, along with low-starch and sugar ingredients.

Consider a horse supplement for gastric support.

In addition to high-quality forage and specialized feed formulas, performance horses may benefit from supplements that support their gastrointestinal system during the stress of travel or competition. These supplements play an important role in maintaining overall health and well-being, in addition to supporting performance.

You may find a good fit with Sentinel Care Gastric Support, a horse supplement that contains bioavailable marine-sourced calcium, as well as prebiotics, probiotics, butyrate and zinc, to help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal environment during stress. Gastric Support can be fed daily, especially to performance horses, horses under stress and to horses that have or are predisposed to have ulcers and other digestive challenges.

Feed frequently, feed consistently.

Finally, feeding for performance requires a frequent, consistent feeding schedule. If horses need to eat a lot throughout the day, as is often the case in performance and training, it’s important to feed smaller amounts more often so the digestive system isn’t overloaded with too much starch and sugar at one time. This is especially important if a horse has digestive or metabolic challenges.

Horses have relatively small stomachs and complex digestive systems that are best suited for frequent, small meals. For optimum performance nutrition, you should aim to feed several times a day, at regular intervals, with access to quality hay or pasture throughout.

Consistency in amount is also important. Remember, a scoop of feed isn’t always a scoop. Your horse needs to get the correct amount of nutrition to support their workload, so you need to be precise. Our equine nutritionists recommend feeding by weight instead of volume, so you may want to install a scale in your stable for more accurate measurements.

Ask your veterinarian about crafting a performance feed plan.

If you’re unsure if your feed is supporting your horse’s performance, ask your veterinarian, nutritionist or Kent Nutrition Group about crafting a feeding plan with Sentinel. Their experience, combined with our expert knowledge of our high-quality performance feed and supplement formulas, can help support your horse as they work toward their full potential.

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