Feeding Management of the Three-Day Event Horse

 

The main goal of feeding a top-level three-day event horse is to deliver nutrients in optimal amounts using sound feeding management practices that allow the horse to maximize its performance. The 2007 edition of the National Research Council’s (NRC) Nutrient Requirements of Horses provides nutritional recommendations for all classes of horses, including those trained and competed at high levels of competition.

The NRC identifies four levels of activity: light (recreational riding or occasional showing), moderate (school horses or frequent showing), heavy (polo, ranch work, or low-level eventing), and very heavy (racing, endurance, or elite-level eventing). Horses in the “very heavy” activity level, like three-day event horses, often have energy, protein, vitamin, and mineral requirements 1.5 to 2.0 times their requirement for maintenance (NRC, 2007).

The main component of any horse’s diet should be forage, but three-day event horses require supplementation to the diet to meet increased nutrient demands due to training and competition. The basic principle of supplementation is to give a horse one or more dietary ingredients above what is normally required to meet nutrient requirements. However, supplements are also given with the goal of improving performance, preventing a problem from occurring, and combating or managing a problem after it arises. Supplementation usually occurs in the form of feeding concentrate, dietary ingredients including bran and oats, or nutrients including vitamins, minerals, or fat.

Many commercial supplements contain ingredients that provide one or more vitamins, minerals, amino acids (protein), fuel sources (carbohydrates and fats), herbs, and direct-fed microbials (bacteria and yeast). In 1998, it was estimated that 94.4% of horse operations surveyed in the United States fed a grain or concentrate to their horses and that 69.8% of those operations also fed supplements (USDA, 1998).

Nutrition Basics

No matter what the specific subject, when writing any nutrition paper you can’t start without mentioning forage as a part of the horses’ dietary requirements. It doesn’t matter what the discipline or breed, all horses should consume at least half of their diet as forage (hay, pasture, and other processed forage). Good-quality grass hay is best for the mature exercising horse; however, young growing horses whether in training or not should have a mixed grass/legume hay or the addition of an alfalfa product to their meals. This will increase the amount of protein in the diet along with calcium, phosphorus, and other nutrients. The typical recommendation is that horses eat 2 to 2.5% of their body weight in dry matter (feedstuffs minus the water content).