Conditioning Your Horse for the Summer

NOTE: This transcript is from an online, live chat. The major topics have been captured in the material below. If you have further questions, please search the eXtension Horses page for more in-depth and detailed information.

NUTRITION

Q: When should I start increasing the amount I feed when I start to condition my horse for the summer show season?

A: As you start to increase work intensity or duration, start increasing feed intake to keep up with the energy expenditure; however, it’s also important to maintain the horse’s body condition. If the horse is too fat, then continue at the same level before increasing feed. If the horse is thin, increase the feed intake to increase its weight. Many horses carry more weight than they need from the inactivity of the previous months and may not need much of an increase in feed. If the horse is out of shape, make sure you gradually start bringing him back into work.

Q: What would be a good weight for a horse for summer showing?

A: Body condition scoring is the most effective way to determine if your horse is where it needs to be weight-wise. Check out eXtension’s Horses Body Condition Scoring learning module for additional information. Aim for a body condition score of 5 or 6, then work up to that point.

Q: Isn’t fat a more stable source of energy?

A: Fat is a better energy source in that it doesn’t give that rapid conversion to energy like carbohydrates do. Corn and other high-sugar and high-starch grains convert to energy rapidly, which is why corn is usually referred to as a “hot feed.”

Q: Any thoughts on refined versus unrefined oils?

A: I am not totally familiar with the differences, but I do know corn oil tastes best to horses. Canola oil has a higher level of Omega 3s, and fish oil is the highest in Omega 3s. Rice bran is a good source of fat because it is high in fat, horses love it, and it is high in fiber.

Q: What are your thoughts about high protein supplements?

A: The best quality protein sources are soybean meal and alfalfa. If you have to use a supplement, make sure it is fortified with lysine and threonine. They are amino acids that are limiting in the horse’s diet and need to be the first amino acids supplemented.

Q: How is soybean meal dispersed?

A: Soybean meal is usually available in a flaky form or powder. You can feed it as you would bran or other supplement. The amount of soybean meal added to the horse’s diet depends on the horse. If you feed horses a high-protein hay such as alfalfa, you shouldn’t need soybean meal. However, if you have a very poor-quality hay or are feeding a growing or lactating horse, you will need higher levels of soybean meal.

Q: What about protein levels for a growing horse that is starting training?

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