The key to a successful season is good preparation. Feeding influences condition and fitness so it is essential that the horse’s diet is right to maximise performance.

It is important to provide the horse with a balanced diet as each nutrient has a different function. A compound feed will be formulated with the necessary energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels for the level of work it is designed to support. Protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of soft tissues. Vitamins and minerals are required in small amounts but are very important in many body systems and functions. The horse’s requirements for these nutrients is governed by work load.

The nutrient that primarily influences performance is energy. There are different energy sources available to the horse and, although most horses will benefit from a combination of all the energy sources, each one has features that make it particularly suitable for horses competing in certain disciplines.



Showing requires a horse to be in excellent condition and to be impeccably behaved. The work itself is light, although the horse may have to work for long periods of time. Fibre should form the basis of the diet to provide a non-heating energy source, particularly for Native breeds. Fats and oils will promote condition and weight gain without exciting the horse. Only small quantities are required making it a particularly safe way to improve condition in Natives and other show horses or ponies prone to laminitis. Fats and oils can also be used as a supplement to promote good skin and coat condition.

Dressage and Show Jumping

Dressage and Show Jumping require strength and power that the rider can control. Horses will be working at a moderate intensity interspersed with very short intense efforts. A horse competing in these disciplines may participate in several classes in one day. Soluble carbohydrates will provide a readily available energy source that the horse can utilise for intense efforts. A cube ration, like Baileys No.4 Top Line Conditioning Cubes or Spillers Conditioning Cubes, will provide a digestible source of soluble carbohydrates that is less likely to affect the temperament or behaviour of a horse than a mix. A quality protein source is very important for muscle development which, combined with an effective training regime, should result in improved strength. Fats and oils can be added to improve stamina, particularly if the horse is working on consecutive days.

Horse and Driving Trials

These sports combine different disciplines with the speed and endurance phase placing the biggest demands on the horse. The horse has to work at high intensities to complete the cross country or marathon stage and so soluble carbohydrates are required. Oat based mixes such as Baileys No.6 Performance Mix or Dodson & Horrell Country Competition Mix are commonly used to provide a high energy diet. Performance feeds generally contain less fibre so that the feed contains a higher energy concentration. This means that the energy in the diet can be increased without having to significantly increase the volume of feed.

Stamina is very important, particularly when the horse is competing on consecutive days such as in a three day event. The event horse will be able to utilise fats and oils when working at low intensities such as on the roads and tracks, leaving the soluble carbohydrate stores for when the intensity increases on the cross country. This should delay the onset of fatigue so that the horse completes the event much more easily. The real benefit should be experienced on the final day of the competition as the horse should be less tired and better able to cope with another days work.


Endurance competitions are obviously a test of stamina. Feeds containing fats and oils such as Buckeye Equine Energy can be used to increase the concentration of energy in the diet without having to significantly increase the volume of feed. Fats and oils will also help to promote improved stamina and endurance. Although fats and oils are important the endurance horse will also require a carbohydrate source. At higher levels soluble carbohydrates are important as an energy source as they are easily broken down and utilised. At lower levels, such as10 to 20 mile rides, fibre can be a valuable energy source, particularly for good doers or excitable horses.


If a horse is so excitable or lazy that it affects performance the diet must be adjusted to try and counteract the problem regardless of the discipline the horse competes in. Excitable horses can be fed high fibre diets to provide a non-heating energy source. Excitable behaviour wastes a lot of energy leaving which often leaves the horse tired before it even starts the competition. Fats and oils are non-heating and can be used to improve stamina and maintain condition.

It is important to ensure that laziness in a horse is not due to the horse being over weight and unfit or an unbalanced diet. If a horse is genuinely lazy a high energy feed may be required. If the horse is fed more energy than it requires it will store the surplus and gain weight. To prevent the horse form becoming overweight the work load must be increased. Cereals often cause a horse to become more lively and so a mix, particularly one containing oats, may generate more enthusiasm from a lazy horse.


If there is sufficient energy in a horse’s diet he will be able to complete his work without losing condition. Although feeding cannot compensate for a lack of ability or training, diet will affect performance. If you are concerned that your horse’s diet is not appropriate for the work he is doing try contacting a nutritionist who should be able to offer you friendly, professional advice.

By Katie Lugsden B.Sc. (Hons)
Equine Nutritionist for Baileys Horse Feeds.


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Updated: October 2005.