At home, a horse is familiar with their surroundings, whether this is an outdoor arena or an indoor school. However, the atmosphere at shows, competitions and events are unfamiliar and this can cause horses to become spooky, distracted and over-excitable – even those that are normally placid. There are a number of things you can do to prepare your horse for show day, including using a non-heating fiber-based feeding plan to reduce the supply of quick-release energy.
Diet management and the horse feed which makes up a horse’s diet is key to success when competing. Forage is always an essential element of a horse’s diet as it helps to maintain digestive health. Ensuring it is clean and provides an appropriate level of nutrients to meet the horse’s requirements is also important. Just because you are increasing workload as you train for competitions, does not mean that you necessarily have to change diet. The following are all things you should check when assessing your horses ration:
Does the horse have enough ‘energy’ for the work he is doing
Is the diet balanced
Is he holding his weight and condition
Are his coat and hooves in good condition
If you’re not happy with any of the above then contact a nutritionist for guidance.
Raising Fitness Levels
In some circumstances, it may be beneficial for riders to raise their own fitness levels as well as the fitness levels of the horse. An out-of-balance rider could inhibit the performance of a horse during the competition so it is important that riders are also working on their own stamina. During training, it is important to remember that a tired horse is more prone to injury, so ensuring that you build his workload up gradually will help to reduce the risk of problems.
Hydration is inextricably linked to performance and if you are staying away from home, getting your horse to drink can be a challenge. Adding cordial or food flavouring to water is one way of masking a change or you can take your own water to the event. Horses often prefer water from the tank in the field rather than that straight from the tap – even at home! Electrolytes should also be provided to replenish those lost during exercise. If your horse won’t drink them in the water, add them to wet, slushy feed to aid absorption.
The cool-down period after a competition is important as it allows the body temperature and respiration rate to return to normal – if this is taking longer than usual it may indicate a problem and you should seek veterinary help. The cool down is also when the body is clearing any waste from the body via the lymphatic system. Allowing 20 minutes for cooling down will help to ensure this process is effective.
After Competition Routine
A lot of riders like to give their horse a rest day after a competition. If you are using a high fibre diet then there is no need to alter the ration. Alfalfa is a great feed to use to provide the vitamins and minerals that are needed to repair and rebuild tissues as well as the essential amino acids that aid muscle development.