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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

February 28, 2008

Feeding the Endurance Horse

Feeding the Endurance Horse

Our endurance horses are what I would consider “extreme athletes”. These equines perform over long distance at moderate speed carrying up to 1/4 of their body weight. The typical feed ration for horses often will not meet the demands of these athletic horses. To feed the endurance horse to meet the demands and rigors of 25, 50, and a 100 miles must take into consideration several things; energy, fiber, electrolytes, and water. In correct balance the horse gives a stellar performance, but get a component out of balance and the horse is at a distinct performance disadvantage.

Energy is the primary component in the nutritional mix. The feed given the horse must supply sustained energy over the course of hours of energy expenditure. Since our horses cannot intake feed during the actual performance of the energy expenditure, we must also rely on stored energy in the form of sugars (glycogen) and fat (triglycerides). Starches are the most readily available source of glycogen in the form of corn, barley, and oats. Fatigue in the endurance horse often occurs as the horse runs out of fuel over extended periods of physical exertion. Glycogen converted from the blood glucose, stored in the liver and muscle fuels the equine athlete during the early phases of energy expenditure. When these initial energy sources are exhausted, the horse’s body will need to draw energy from fatty acid (stored as fat). These stored energy sources can only be utilized via aerobic energy demands. These fatty acids can be fed in the form of corn oil, or soybean oils. The bonus in supplementing fats in the horse’s diet is the horse will normally require less feed overall than if the fats were not supplemented. Fiber in the hind gut of the horse allows the horse to further absorb the fatty acids for energy demands. Fiber also absorbs and holds fluids that will be drawn upon over the long demands of physical exertion. Electrolyte balance is critical, as depletions can cause the blood to thicken, the gut to cease functioning, and metabolic distress to ensue.

There are many good resources and articles on the topic of feed, and electrolytes out on the web:

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