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Through The Horse's Mouth - The Right Food For The Right Horse

Horses, like people, have issues with food. The wrong feed, the wrong nutritional combinations and the wrong timing can all contribute to making a horse perform below par and feel under the weather.

A well-fed horse is a happy horse, and no organisation is more aware of this than Baileys Horse Feeds whose nutritionist Kate Lugsden will be part of the Meet the Experts area at the Midlands Equine Fair, Three Counties Showground, Malvern on 8 and 9 March.

Kate will be on hand to answer any questions about equine nutrition from visitors to the Fair, but in anticipation of this we asked her to answer the top 10 questions that are posed to her and her team:

1. What can I do to put weight on my horse?

The answer is to feed your horse the right feed, and give it a supplement that will help it to digest properly. A pre-biotic supplement to improve the bacterial population of the horse' stomach is the best way forward. With regard to feed, it is advisable to use one that is designed for the job, such as conditioning cubes - feeding the horse more of its usual diet does not usually work.

2. What can I feed my overweight pony?

Ponies need a balanced diet to keep them healthy, but if your pony is overweight it is important to choose one that will not add to the problem. Low calorie feeds are available, usually in the form of balancers that are concentrated and fed in very small amounts.

3. What can I feed my fizzy pony?

The first thing to do is to check that you are not overfeeding it. Cubes are generally better that a mix as they tend to be lower in starch and so less likely to cause fizz.

4. I have a lazy, overweight cob. Any suggestions?

This is a difficult one, because in order to increase energy you will need to increase calories. You will need to try to get its weight down so that it will find work easier, so a low calorie balancer should be used to start off with. Over a period of time, add oats to the balancer for extra energy when it is needed. When the horse has a quieter work period, drop the oat content back down again.

5. My horse needs more stamina because he is running out of steam towards the end of cross-country sessions. What can I feed him?

Supplements with high oil content are useful because the horse can use the oil as a source of energy when working at low intensities, such as in dressage. Once the horse moves up a gear on the cross-country he relies on stores of glycogen that come from cereals. If he has had oil to use at low intensities he will still have a full tank of glycogen stores to draw upon for longer bouts of exercise such as the cross-country.

6. My pony has had laminitis. What is the best feed for her?

The first thing to do is to keep grass and cereals to a minimum, but you will need to provide an alternative source of fibre to maintain gut function - don't starve the poor thing! You will also need a good source of vitamins, nutrients and minerals to repair damaged tissue and to keep your pony in good condition - low calorie balancers would be good for this. Pre-biotics will also be useful to help re-establish a healthy bacterial population in the gut.

7. My horse is now 24 and is starting to drop a bit of weight and condition. What should I do?

There are feeds designed specifically for older horses. However, they all assume that every horse has the same needs and this is not the case. If an older horse drops a lot of weight then a conditioning feed would be better as it contains more calories then a veteran feed.

8. I have bought a yearling New Forest pony that is looking very well. I have just given it a bit of pasture mix. Is this OK?

Pasture mix is designed to be fed to adult horses and so does not contain sufficient nutrients to support the growth and development of youngstock. For breeds such as Natives, Warmbloods and Cobs, there are low calorie stud feeds that provide essential nutrients for growth without the calories that cause weight gain or rapid growth.

9. My old horse is losing his teeth and is finding it really hard to chew. Is there anything I can do?

There are feeds that can be made into a mash or even a gruel that are much easier for the horse to eat. I would also suggest that you use a short chop to replace hay so that your horse gets enough fibre.

10. I've been told that I need to give my horse electrolytes in the summer, but I don't know why. Can you help?

Electrolytes are lost in sweat and as they are needed for neuro-muscular function they are vital for optimum performance. Summer is usually the time when they are needed the most because of the heat, but a horse that is working hard in the winter will still be losing electrolytes - so a supplement would be beneficial.

Tickets for the Midlands Equine Fair are available in advance from Contour Exhibitions & Events by calling 08700 115007 and advance booking discounts are available. Further information and leaflets are available by calling 01884 841644, or by logging on at

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