With so many different types of feed on the market, it can be tricky to know which is best for your horse. Choosing the right one will meet his nutritonal needs and can have a positive influence on his temperament.

Feeding a fizzy horse

"As a general rule, keep starch levels in a fizzy horse to a minimum," says Briony. "Choose cubes over a mix as they will be lower in starch but with an equivalent digestible energy (DE) content. Also, look for fibre and oil as energy sources as these provide slow release, non-heating energy that shouldn't increase excitability."

Match diet to workload, so your horse doesn't have excess calories to burn. Consider his condition and how much riding you do, and choose a feed you can offer at recommended levels to maintain condition and fuel his work.

 "Fractious behaviour and excitability can be a result of management and husbandry as well as diet, so look at any potential causes of stress in your horse's life and consider changes to help him stay calmer," adds Briony. "A healthy gut is important for a happy horse, so ensure he receives plenty of good quality fibre to satisfy his physiological need to chew and to counteract any acidity in the digestive tract."

The right diet will meet a horse's nutritional needs and can have a positive effect on his temperament

Need more energy?

It can be difficult to know what to feed a good doer that has low energy levels. "Many people end up feeding reduced amounts of a standard mix or cube in the hope this will give energy without weight gain," says Briony. "However, if you feed less than the recommended levels of a feed, the diet will be unbalanced. This can deprive your horse of essential nutrients that can actually cause sluggish behaviour. 

The first step is to ensure the diet is balanced through the use of a feed balancer, which provides vitamins, minerals and quality protein with a minimal calorie content. In many cases, balancing the diet can be enough to perk a horse up, but if you are still looking for energy, introduce straight oats, alongside a balancer and quality forage, for quick-release energy.

"With good doers, any calories not used for work will go straight to the waistline. Therefore, the quantity of oats should be varied according to workload.

"Maintaining the recommended amount of balancer ensures the horse gets all the daily nutrients he needs. As a horse's workload increases, the type and energy level of feed may need changing accordingly, to deliver additional calories and nutrients in a manageable quantity.

"Different horses have different metabolisms, though. While a horse's requirements for calories/energy will depend on workload and body condition, good-doers generally have lower requirements whatever work they are doing.

"Therefore, a good-doer in hard work will still need elevated nutritional support - just fewer calories than a poorer doer. For these horses, a lower-energy feed or reduced amount of a higher-energy feed may suit calorie requirements, but both would need topping up with a balancer to provide essential nutrients for a balanced diet."

Nutrition matters

"Modern compound feeds are formulated to be fed at calculated levels, according to work intensity, alongside forage of an 'average' nutritional quality," says Briony. "This helps to supply calories and nutrients that are lacking in the forage, to provide a fully balanced diet.

"The nutritional content of forage will vary according to type and time of year but typically it can be expected to provide calories which will be sufficient for some horses. 

"Forage also supplies other nutrients, including some protein, vitamins and minerals but levels vary and ideally need supplementing whatever the workload.

"A horse has a limited appetite and can physically only consume the equivalent of 2-2.5 per cent of their bodyweight in food, whether forage or concentrate, per day. So, as his energy and nutrient requirements go up, his total diet must be more energy and nutrient dense to supply more per mouthful.

"Choosing more nutritious and digestible forage will help but is not always sufficient. Therefore, concentrate feed becomes the focus, with different ones developed to provide varying amounds of calories and nutrients per scoop. Once the correct one is chosen to suit the horse's requirements, it must be feed according to the manufacturer's recommendations, which are printed on the bag.

"With a greater amount of calories and nutrients coming from concentrate feed, a horse may lose his appetite for forage. However, he should still have access to forage ad-lib, to satisfy his need to chew and to maintain a healthy digestive system.

"The benefits of this approach outweigh any which suggest forage intake should be limited for horses in intense work, in an attempt to minimise bulky fibre sitting in the digestive system. The only instance when forage intake may require management is for extreme good doers or overweight horses, when a calorie controlled diet is required.

"In this case, forages should be as low in calories as possible - choose stalky, coarser hay over soft, leafy haylage - and may need feeding in small-holed haynets to make a smaller amount last longer."

  • For more great feeding advice, visit: www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk or to speak to one of the company's nutritionists, tel: 01371 850 247.