Sport horse nutrition

Sport horse nutrition

Sport horse nutrition

In recent years, the popularity of various types of equestrian sports has grown. To correctly feed a horse, it is necessary, at a minimum, to provide it with the necessary physical strength to perform work of a certain intensity. At the same time, the rider must keep full control over the animal, and the horse – at the right moment, it has to be obedient, strong, and enduring.

Performance of a sport horse

Many factors can affect the health and performance of a horse, and its feed is not always the main issue (although when the horse receives 12 kg of food in a day, it can affect it). It is easy to feed the animal to increase its strength and endurance, but it is also possible to lose control of it and its obedience. Feeding according to the animal’s temperament is one of the two main rules of feeding a sport horse (the first rule is providing constant access to fresh and clean water). After all, the temperament of the horse depends on its desire to obey the rider and fulfill all requirements in competitions. On the other hand, if you follow the rules of feeding, which state that the animal should be fed upon completion of the work, this can lead to overexcitement in the performance of the set tasks, if the horse is not controlled.

Physical strength of horses

All sport horses must be in good shape to do work that meets the requirements of the type of sport and competitions in which you participate. Thus, the horses involved in long-distance races, as well as harness and athletic horses must have the best physical strength and especially endurance. Dressage and show jumping require a different physical form—it demands a near instantaneous release of energy. However, the requirements for young horses are not as high.

Horses physical form changes as a result of the adaptation of the body to the production of energy, mainly through aerobic methods (correct breathing). This is especially important for slow and long-haul work. The production of anaerobic energy (when oxygen is not supplied to the cells) is required at certain times—when fast work and a big splash of energy is needed (for example, when overcoming obstacles or when climbing uphill in a triathlon). All sport horses require basic conditioning for the production of aerobic energy, regardless of what sport they are participating in.

What do you need to pay attention to

Let’s list the basic nutrients necessary for sport horses.


Always give water during travel and competitions to prevent dehydration.

Energy and proteins.

Although some horses produce too much energy, you should always keep an eye on its sources, which gives ”fuel” during exercises and recovery period. Proteins and especially the amino acid lysine must be balanced with the amount of incoming energy. When feeding horses, for every 10 g of protein and 0.35 g of lysine, 1 megajoule of energy should be consumed.

Energy sources.

All horse diets’ primary sources of energy are fiber, starch, and oil. When fiber and oil are consumed to generate energy by the aerobic route (the process is rather slow), glucose is preserved to use later in case of urgent need. In addition, these two nutrients can replace the starch in a horse’s diet and thus can reduce the risk of digestive disorders when overeating starch. In the diet, excess starch can cause uncontrollable behavior.


Physical activities, sweating, and anxiety increase the horse’s need for electrolytes or, more scientifically, for rehydration therapy (compensation for the loss of water and electrolytes). Dehydration reduces the performance of the animal by 2% and, if fluid loss is not restored, it slows down the recovery of the body.


As energy generates in muscles, there is an accumulation of decayed products that need to be cleansed. Free radicals that damage the tissues in the body are the most dangerous substances formed during stressful situations, and antioxidants remove those free radicals. Based on this, horses need to be given around 1000–2000 IU of vitamin E and about 3 mg of selenium daily.

Horses that consume a small amount of food.

Some sport horses look great and work well, while consuming a small amount of food, even participating in the highest-level competitions. The increase in solid food has a direct impact on their behavior. They have a reduced level of intelligence and become more stubborn, or they gain unwanted weight.

Horses in competitions

Most horses participating in top-class competitions eat no more than 2-3 bundles of hay (4-6 kg) and 2-3 kg of low-calorie food. With this nourishment, the levels of protein and energy are lower than their needs, but this is not dangerous if the nutrients are balanced and micronutrient supplements are introduced into the diet.

Sport horse nutrition

Horses that easily gain weight

Horses that gain weight easily, often reduce the amount of forage to prevent the accumulation of extra pounds, but such measures increase the likelihood of behavioral issues. It can cause stomach ulcers and colic. The minimum safe level of fiber in the rations is 1% of body weight—for example, 5 kg of hay (8 kg of haylage) for a horse weighing 500 kg.

Standard food consumption amount for sport horses.

  • Light class – 2-3 kg of low-calorie food or food for sport horses, plus hay or grass (minimum 5 kg).
  • The middle class – 3-4 kg of food for sport horses, hay and/or grass (minimum 5 kg).
  • Top class – 5-6 kg of food for sport horses or high-calorie food (or a mixture of both), the minimum amount of forage is 5 kg.

Definitely, the amount of food that is needed varies, depending on the height, weight, and temperament of the horse or pony.

Restless horses.

Some sport horses consume homemade food well or before the start of the sports season, but as soon as competitions begin, they refuse to eat and, therefore, as they progress through sports competitions, they start to lose weight. The feeding strategies, in this case, should include control over the horse’s behavior. Giving the animal regular breaks during competitions is necessary. In addition, you should pick up such rations that the horse will eat with pleasure and eat only that.

Fatigue and injuries.

All athletes undergo severe stress, so horses that participate in competitions for several years in a row will inevitably suffer from chronic fatigue and injuries. In this case, a special feeding regime is necessary. If the main problem is chronic disorders of the muscles, for the rapid recovery of the animal, it must be fed a diet high in fiber and oil and low in starch. If an animal suffers from stiffness and dysfunction of the joints, it needs supplements that help to loosen and restore the function of the joints. Although, in cases of irreversible damage to the joints, they will not be able to restore the process. It is also necessary to seek advice from a veterinarian and other physiotherapists specializing in illnesses concerning horse physiology.