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Choosing a Feed for Endurance HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · July 5, 2013

Endurance horses typically train and compete over long distances, and their nutritional needs reflect the demands of this type of exercise. Selecting a feed for an endurance horse should be based on energy sources, protein level, and other aspects of formulation.

The energy content of the feed is probably the most important factor. Energy should be available from a combination of sources. Fortification with processed starch in the form of cracked corn, rolled barley, or crimped oats should be the basis of the feed. Addition of energy in the form of vegetable oil or a quality animal fat product is the next step. Finished grain concentrates for endurance horses should contain between 7 and 10% fat. With the many benefits that fiber has both for energy production and for maintenance of proper digestive function, inclusion of additional fiber is justified. Adding any one or a combination of the super fibers (beet pulp, soybean hulls, almond hulls, or oat hulls) at a rate of 10 to 40% is beneficial.

The next criterion the finished grain concentrate will be judged on is protein content. For endurance horses, high protein and high performance do not go together. Finished grain concentrates, therefore, should contain 12% protein or less.

Electrolytes would seem like an obvious group of minerals to add to an endurance horse feed. However, most endurance riders have worked out their own schemes for dosing horses with electrolytes. This usually eliminates the need to select a feed with inclusion of a range of electrolytes. The addition of plain salt at a rate of 0.5% is adequate. Other nutrients that warrant consideration include vitamin E, selenium, and B-vitamins. Vitamin E and selenium are both involved in antioxidant reactions within the body. Vitamin E should be included at a rate of 100 IU/lb of finished feed, with selenium providing 0.3 ppm of total diet. A B-vitamin package should be added to the grain concentrate to account for any potential deficiencies that may occur due to stress. These products are water soluble and safe to add. Finally, the total grain concentrate must be balanced for other essential nutrients including vitamins and minerals.

If a complete (forage plus grain) pellet for endurance horses is used, energy level and protein content of the product are critical. It is essential that enough grain (starch) be included in these products to raise the energy content. A product with approximately 30% grain with added fat should be appropriate. The protein content of this product should not exceed 14%, so alfalfa should be used sparingly.