The Dangers of Rocket Fuel: Feeding the Performance Thoroughbred
While I am a nutrition nerd, I have no formal training in nutrition or vet science. All statements are based on my own experience and the experiences of friends.
Maintaining a thoroughbred for dressage or another high performance sport can be difficult. Their high-energy personalities, sensitivity to temperature, and high metabolisms can make balancing energy requirements and weight-maintenance difficult.
A large majority of thoroughbreds come from a racetrack background. On the track, horses are often fed in way that supports their unique nutritional needs. Namely, quick bursts of immense energy. This type of energy expenditure requires a large amount of quickly accessible and easily digested carbohydrates(1), a minimal forage load, and an otherwise nutritionally balanced diet. This leads to racehorses often being fed mostly sweet-type, carb-heavy, feeds, with a dose of protein and some fat supplements to keep weight up. Forage is often alfalfa, and usually decreased the day of racing to try to keep weight down. (Ever try running sprints with a full belly? Don't. Even if you don't throw up, you'll be horribly slow.)
|Remember, kids. Only small snacks prior to extreme exercise...|
Putting all of this together, the recommended diet for the sport horse would do best with a high forage and fat based diet, lower in carbs than that of a racehorse, but still with a hefty dose of protein.(2) With easy keeping warmbloods, a mostly forage diet with a ration balancer is often enough. In heavy work, easy keepers often do well with an additional grain/fat supplement to maintain weight and long-lasting energy levels.
As we've been schooling 3rd level, I've noticed Guinness lacking in the strength department. He's been very slow to develop a topline in response to his workload. His neck remained stubbornly the same, refusing to build muscle over the top. He's was also quick to tire when working in collection.
I chose to add a 32% protein rational balancer to his diet. The additional vitamin/mineral supplementation appealed to me, as Pig otherwise was not receiving enough through his normal grain ration. While on full turnout, his pasture waned in the winter and his exercise levels remained very high. I felt this meant balanced feed supplementation would be a good idea. Plus, a ration balancer is one of the cheapest ways to add protein to a horse's diet.
Since moving to Maryland, Guinness has been receiving two pounds of the ration balancer, on top of two pounds of 14% senior grain and his full pasture. His weight is still fantastic (not increasing or decreasing), but I have noticed other differences with the increased protein supplementation.
He's been growing topline. Like crazy...
|As in, inches of topline...|
That said, extra protein in the diet does have some pitfalls. Like what? Like ... bringing out the crazy.
Once he's in the ring and settled down to work, however, Guinness has been a perfect gentleman. The extra muscle has helped him feel more prepared for the work, so we have fewer "I can't even" meltdowns. His hotness is just about even with my capabilities, making him a very fun and responsive Ferrari ride. Honestly, I'm enjoying the shenanigans. Hot horses, they are kind of my thing.
The whole thing makes me wonder, though. What kind of balance is there in feeding your horse for optimal performance and keeping him a willing and mindful partner? It seems to be harder for thoroughbreds.
**Thanks to Jodi from Racing to Ride for more detailed info on the feeding of racehorses.