Formulating the Ideal Race Horse Diet
Just like learning how to play blackjack in order to get the best possible returns, putting the effort into learning what your race horse should be eating can pay off hugely over time. When it comes to their nutritional requirements, racing equines are in a class of their own, and each horse may also need specific foods in order to perform at their best.
Broodmares require high-protein and mineral rich diets to grow large and healthy foals and to produce enough milk to keep them well-sated. Young horses, too require plenty of minerals and protein to gain the hundreds of pounds of muscle necessary for their adult lives.
Race horses need to perform at their peak, no matter what, and this takes an enormous amount of energy. It is their trainers’ jobs to ensure that they receive this energy through their feed, or they could risk their prize equines’ performances falling short.
The Importance of ATP
Unlike wild horses, racing horses have very high nutrient requirements because of their increased activity. When a horse exercises, its muscles need small ATP molecules to produce muscle contractions.
Their muscles do not store much ATP naturally, but their bodies do have many different pathways that can produce this molecule with ease. One objective of feeding a horse correctly is optimizing its adenosine triphosphate stores to that its muscles can continue to work without becoming fatigued.
The most essential fuel for the body of a race horse is glycogen, which is stored in the liver, fat tissue and muscle. During a race, the animal’s primary source of energy is its muscle glycogen, but fat is also essential to supply calories for low intensity training.
Fiber and Starches
Fiber is a crucial component of a healthy horse diet, and one that is often overlooked. The animals’ developed hind-guts house billions of bacteria that ferment large quantities of fiber, and the end products of this process can be used as daily energy sources long after the horse has eaten a meal. As proper gut function is essential to their health, racehorses should be fed around 7-9kg of clean grass hay per day, as well as 1-1.8kg of alfalfa hay.
Extra calories should also be supplied in the form of cereal grains like barley, corn and oats. Starch is essential to raise blood glucose and insulin, which both contribute towards glycogen synthesis. With that said, starches need to be limited and carefully controlled to prevent hind-gut acidosis, so it’s advised to never give a race horse more than 2.2kg of starch per meal.
Fat and Proteins
In terms of fat intake, fat is a great alternative energy source in horses’ rations as it supplies a concentrated form of calories. Horses don’t consume much fat in the wild, but they can digest vegetable oils and the likes with ease. They can tolerate up to 2.5 cups of oils per day, but high fat intake levels should be achieved slowly to avoid gastrointestinal distress.
Last but not least is protein, which is metabolized by the liver and oxidized to produce ATP. Excess protein feeding should be avoided to prevent high urea levels and carbohydrate metabolism issues, and in general, adult race horses need only trace amounts to stay healthy and fit. As mentioned above, broodmares and foals require more of this nutrient, which can be supplied according to their individual needs for optimal results. In general, a good feed would consist of 10-15lbs of around 50% starches and sugars and 20-30% fats, along with highly fermentable fiber like beet pulp.