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

November 30, 2009

When to increase the feed ration, and when to back it down?

If my brain is firing on the right memory cell I'm thinking that Michelle told me that she adds extra chow only when training or competition are ramped up. I'm still really fuzzy on safely increasing the chow, and when to decrease. With a horse that is worked every day it is simple, you'd do the same thing every day to maintain the weight.

How many calories can safely be added to the diet. Should those calories be onboard the morning of a ride? How much chow post ride? What about the day after when the horse is on R&R? (remember I'm thinking about fat storage which can convert to glycogen).

How much extra food is safe? How do you know? Is concentrate better than plain old oats? Does a rest day mean NO EXERCISE? Or does it mean light exercise/or turn out?

So many questions, so little time. ~E.G.


  1. Turn out is essential. I believe it's how horses should live 24/7 365. UNLESS they are lame and need to be stalled on vets order. The best situation is a run-in shelter in a large pasture. With one or two other pastures to rotate to thru-out the year. Obviously, not everyone can do that. I just believe that's the ideal situation for a horse, especially an endurance horse.

    I don't feed my riding horses any grain unless I've done a hard work out (and that's just one small feeding that night) or if we are going to an endurance ride or LD. Then I will start to give them a little more grain a couple days before the ride at the ride and then the day or two after the ride depending on how tough it was for them. Then I quit. I like to keep them on grass and grass hay as much as I can. Every day I feed them a vitamin supplement though, it's alfalfa based crumbles. Max Crumbles I believe it's called and it is supposed to have electrolytes and amino acids in it too. Also, I like to have a loose salt, the more natural kind. And loose Rush Creek Minerals. I have fed ABC's before but it's kind of expensive. I would recommend it though.

    I've read that the balance of Omega 3's to Omega 6's in horses and humans is essential to being in optimal health. Human's need 13 times more Omega 6's than horses. And we usually get too many. Getting too many Omega 6's causes inflammation that leads to all kind of different bad things. Grain contains Omega 6's. Especially corn I beleive, but I'd have to look. Grass contains Omega 3's. So they need to get 13 times as much grass as grain. I can't figure that. All I know is that I want to keep my horses on grass and grass hay. If I do feed grain I usually try to find something that has a lot of beet pulp in it.

    Time off, in my opinion, is no riding but definately turn out. Not stall time.

    In that racehorse book you need to keep in mind a couple of things. I assume he is talking about 2 year olds. They need time to develop as it is and can get that LSD from turn out 24/7 365 with other 2 year olds. Plus these horses, I assume, have just been backed. Most horses aren't put on this type of a schedule as a two year old. I would not do it. I would let them grow up a year or two first. You are coming at it with a 5 year old that has already had a couple years under saddle. It's still really good information. You just need to keep those things in the back of your head when you read it. He probably has to keep his horses in stalls since he is on the race track. But I'd bet he'd turn them out if he could for their time off periods.

    My horses are all at good weights. But if I had a horse I needed to put weight on and grass hay and pasture just wasn't doing it I'd feed grain. BUT I'd put it with as much freshly ground flax seed as I could to add in more Omega 3's.

    Michelle Detmer

  2. E.G- do you use the term Chow as a general term for grain? Or is Chow a brand of grain?
    A couple of the experienced endurance riders I train with have shared some of their thoughts with me in the past. They almost always increase grain rations on competition weekends, especially if it's over a 25 miler or a multi day. The horse usually has free choice beet pulp.

    JB is pretty much mostly at rest at this point of the year but he gets a 1/2 can of oats, his vitamin and his farriers formula once a day, plus ofcourse his hay. When he is being worked harder, he gets beet pulp and a full can of oats, his vitamin, farriers formula and vegetable oil for fat. I have really tried to keep it as simple as possible. I have also supplemented him the LMF gold as well, as suggested by others and my vet. LMF gold is very palatable and encourages them to eat, which is helpful during a race.It is fairly low in protein. So that's kind of what my program with JB is. With Maggie on the scene, I am not sure what is going to work for her yet. She is a bit on the heavy side and a very very easy keeper.

  3. Michelle,

    I don't even begin to agree with the concepts of riding, much less racing a horse as a two-year old. But what I have done with this book is try to look at it as a resource, and attempt to turn it around to something useful for my circumstance. Ivers in his day (he was from Vevay, IN by the way) was thought to be a renegade because of his thoughts on things like LSD, and looking at hoof angles, and elimnating toe grabs on the shoes of horses. It was just unheard of in racing circles. He did have some success with his different way of thinking. The primary things that I felt might be pertinent to our circumstance were:

    *Phebe's weight loss and gradual rigidity of muscle tone, which I did not recognize as a problem, since she was still looking good, and motoring down the trail.
    *My introduction of cantering too early in the process, and probably even extending the trot that early.
    *Training her in a group of experienced endurance horses early on was just too much too soon. You remember how she acted that day? She wasn't mentally prepared for that. She still isn't good in a big group, so I try to avoid that and work her with one other horse when possible.

    Ivers isn't the law of the endurance jungle that is for sure! But it was definitely a noteworthy book to read, and I'd recommend it. What I liked most were I had those "light bulb" moments when all of a sudden things that did not make sense, just suddenly DO make sense.

    Phebes was started just a little over a year ago. I waited until she was a long four-year-old to actually take her out of the round pen and ride. I figure 970 miles is a good base of LSD. So we will not be necessarily focusing on that for the coming season, though we'll certainly have to have at least one session a week to keep her in shape. I will be reinforcing intervals, but not at blazing speed as he indicates for a racehorse. Rather at endurance speeds for my level (beginner).

    Our biggest barrier is going to be ROADWORK. She is so freaky on the road or any new situation. ~E.G.

  4. Jonna,

    That made me giggle :) Chow is slang for food in this region of the podunk called Osgood. I'm so tickled I can hardly quit grinning. That said, Phebes really packs down some groceries just for maintenance weight. When I got home today she was entertaining herself by galloping around the muddy front field. She gets for maintenance:

    3 pounds of Cool Command, 2 pounds of beet pulp, a flax seed based fat supplement, multivitamin, vitamin E supplement, and a whole bunch of grass /timothy hay. Free choice loose minerals and salt.

    Now if she's working on this ration she will lose weight. So I'd probably have to introduce a third feeding to get the extra calories in. Hubbard feeds has a low 12 % protein performance feed that I'm going to use so that vitamins and minerals don't get too unbalanced.

    In the winter I do keep the horses up overnight. Not because I think it is the best thing. But because our property just doesn't dry out very well in the winter. I like to put them in their stall with clean dry bedding to give the hooves an opportunity to dry out thoroughly.

  5. OOOps. I mean HORSES need 13 times more Omega 3's than humans do.

    And humans need more Omega 3's than what they normally eat.

    Michelle Detmer

  6. After the incident with Bo at the Washoe endurance ride (50 mile) a talked to a few great vets that are also riders. One said before the ride they can have as much hay as they want. As long as they are not colicky he said FEED them. Their was a discussion on oats on the AERC yahoo group earlier and i think the general idea was that oats do not offer the endurance horse much benefit.

    As far as how much is safe, i think that really is a case by case. My main horse sassy is really great, will eat when she is hungry, then when she has had enough, she will stop and leave it for later. Where as my other horse Jack will just continue to eat until he gets into trouble (his former nickname was the king of colic) I think a rest day means that you are not hitting the trail in a serious mode. They are not having to expend a great amount of energy.

    What great questions! :)


  7. EG- glad you got a chuckle out of that. and I thought I lived in podunk Montana!! My own term for grain then would really make you laugh! Wow- you have quite a regimented feed program. She must have the metabolism of a gazelle. If I fed all that to JB , he would be fat as a toad. I am not familiar with Cool Command. JB is on turn out all year with the other horses. I don't have stalls, just run in shelters so they can get out of the weather when they want to. My horses pretty much have free reign of the place. We have limited pasture so we have to hay year round. I wish I had stalls for those arctic blasts, it would sure make feeding easier! I agree though, the times that I had to board my horses at places in stalls were the times I had the most health issues with them. They are not made to stand around.

  8. Oh Zach-
    I would be curious to read that forum on oats you mention. My vet and the research I have done along with the help of my vet don't correlate with what you shared so I am curious. Could you post that link here or in a comments section on my blog. I would love to read about it more.

  9. Really interesting comments!

    I have been counting any day where we don't go very far or very fast as an active rest day, and additionally I make sure my horse has one day totally off. If I'm ambling along with a group of QH's, that's really not work for her.

    I try to treat Dixie like a distance runner. Nobody needs to run 7 days a week - you need one day to lay on the couch and recover. But you can definitely rest one day a week, train 4 or 5 days, and go for a nice walk the other 1 or 2 days.