An important part of preparing for a competition is to ensure that the horse’s diet is appropriate for the level and type of work being done. Once this is established there should be no need to change the horses diet in the days leading up to a competition.

Although disruptions to a horse’s routine should be avoided as much as possible it is often impossible not to have to make some alterations on competition day. The key to avoiding digestive upsets is to try and ensure that the horse has plenty of time to digest each meal before working or travelling.

Photography by Sandi Hall

Most horses have to travel to a competition and so should have at least an hour to digest their concentrate meal before beginning a journey. Horses are generally very sensitive to what’s going on around them and so it is advisable not to do things that indicate something exciting is about to happen, such as starting the lorry, while they are eating. This will help to promote efficient digestion and utilisation of the food which is particularly important for excitable individuals and those that lose condition easily when they travel and compete.

If allowing the horse access to forage during the journey, haylage or soaked hay should be used to try and reduce the amount of circulating dust and spores present in the lorry or trailer.

Water should be available to the horse right up until loading. Depending on the length of the journey it may be necessary to offer water at regular intervals. This is particularly important if travelling in warm weather. The horse should also be offered water after completing each class or phase to try and prevent dehydration which can result in early fatigue and potentially heat exhaustion.

Research has shown that electrolytes are lost during transport as well as when horses are working. If an electrolyte supplement is not used routinely every day, it is beneficial to use one the day before, during and after a competition to counteract the increased losses that are likely to occur. Ideally, electrolytes should be added to the water to promote efficient uptake and utilisation, but this can put many horses off drinking altogether. The other alternative is to add the electrolytes to the horse’s feed ensuring that water is added to make the feed damp.

If the horse is only away from home for one day it is usually best to wait until he returns to his stable to give him his evening feed. If it is going to be very late before the horse gets home then he can be given his feed before leaving the competition site as long as he has at least an hour to digest it before the journey begins.

Once the horse is home he should be offered free choice access to forage and water. The quantity of concentrates offered should be determined by whether the horse will be exercised on the following day. The less digestible the horse’s diet is the greater the need for the quantity provided to be reduced. This basically means that if the horse receives a high energy mix containing lots of oats there is a greater risk of nutrition related diseases and disorders occurring if the normal ration is fed and the horse is not exercised. Concentrate rations that are based on cereals that have been cooked to improve digestibility or that are high in fibre are less likely to cause problems.

Travelling and competition do place greater stresses on the horse but careful management should help to reduce the risk of nutrition related problems occurring. If you have nay queries regarding the feeding of your competition horse please contact Baileys helpline on 01371 850247 or e-mail on

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Updated: October 2005.