In the equine world, elite show jumpers are known as the frequent flyers. They often soar over tall barriers and fences with a lot of room to spare, and in the process also accumulate air miles as they travel between various horse competitions. And just like jet planes require fossil fuels, these jumpers also need organic fuel to run their bodies in form of nutrients. So, what do they need? One researcher sought to find out.
Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Science at the North Carolina State University, Shannon Pratt-Phillips, MSc, PhD, surveyed a number of owners and managers of these elite athletes in active equine competition. She presented her findings at the Department of Agriculture & Natural Resources in the University of Maryland during this year’s Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference held March 23 and 24.
According to Pratt-Phillip’s report, the managers surveyed said they acquire most of the nutrition information they use from the Internet, magazines, vets, farriers, as well as feed companies. In addition:
- The managers rarely utilized the expertise of independent nutritionists;
- Many horse/rider teams extracted most of their support from feed manufacturers and often followed these companies’ recommendations; and
- A section of the managers showed interest in getting more detailed nutritional information while their counterparts were content with the current situation.
Pratt-Phillip also found out that the biggest nutrition-related health concerns among these managers were equine ulcers and lameness. Another interesting finding was that most of the managers fed their horses with the hay that their competition facilities offered them, despite its being of poor to moderate quality, without mixing in any hay that their horses were used to eating at home. However, their horses did have access to hay most of the time of stabling.
A majority, if not all, of the elite show jumpers were also given supplements that included electrolytes, joint support, and probiotics. Most of them also received a daily dose of the USDA-approved GastroGard/UlcerGard, which is a combination of treatment and preventative doses of omeprazole, used to manage gastric ulcers in horses.
In the surveyed group, Pratt-Phillip found out that most show jumpers had a dietary intake of calories, crude proteins and calcium that generally surpassed minimum recommendations by the National Research Council (2007) for horses of between 500 and 600 kgs (or roughly 1,100 to 1,300 lbs) in heavy exercise, although the horses surveyed did not have excess body weight. However, their phosphorous intake appeared to be lower than the recommended minimums.
Pratt-Phillips also noted that on the 9-point Henneke Body Condition Scale, her surveyed elite show jumpers generally appeared in the range of 3.5 to 6.5.
Some of the questions arising concerning the feeding of elite show jumpers as a result of Pratt-Phillips’ survey include the following:
- What should be the ideal body condition for an elite show jumper?
- Considering that horses often compete a few days within a week, is the repletion of skeletal muscle glycogen a concern?
- Does the nutritional diets provided have sufficient energy to sustain the horses’ workload?
- Does international travel have an impact on equine dietary needs? If so, how much?
Maintaining a consistent hay supply for horses with regards to international travel still remains a major challenge. Equine owners and managers are therefore encouraged to insist that event organizers provide their horses with only high-quality hay and forage options. A consistent supply of good quality hay (or hay cubes if hay bale transport is difficult) is very important.
For concentrates, feed your horse at least 5 hours before the kick-off of a competition, while for hay, 2 to 6 hours before exercise is recommended. Finally and most importantly, work with a professional nutritionist to develop the most appropriate feeding plan for your elite equine show jumper.
Image source: flickr.com
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