This post is directed to the horse owner who is now asking, what do all these posts on fats, carbos and hay have to do with me? What are Tivers, Susan, and Dr. Ralston talking about? Am I doing it all wrong? As Dr. Ralston said - Keep It Simple (Stupid) - the KISS principle.
Start with good quality hay (I know Susan said she hates that term, but it does apply). You`ll want lots of hay. It should be clean, free of dust, molds, and weeds. You need at least 2% of the body weight of the horse. Use a weight tape on your horse, or go get him weighed at the local feed store or vet hospital. If you horse weighs 1000 pounds, then make sure you feed 20 pounds of hay per day. This is where to start. You may need to up the pounds or even lower them (in the case where you own an air fern that grows fat on that dry winter grass with little nutritional value - his name is Dragon.)
Hay comes in a variety of mixes - alfalfa, timothy, brome, wheat hay, barley hay, etc. Look up in one of the books mentioned what the % of protein, calories, vitamine and mineral levels are, etc. This is the easiest way to know if you need to add something. If you buy your hay in bulk, you can take core samples from several bales and take it to a lab to have it analyized. This will tell you exactly what you need.
Grain adds protein, minerals, vitamines, and calories. No matter what you read on this board, make sure that you don`t over due what your horse gets. Never, ever make drastic changes to the horse`s diet just for an endurance ride. So far, no one has said you should, but I want you to understand this very well. If you decide to go with one of the special diets being discussed, make sure you don`t change the horse`s diet rapidly. It will not help, and might cause great harm. So, that said, how much should you feed of grain? Depends on the horse and the hay.
If you are feeding lots of good hay and your horse is loosing weight, then add a mixed grain. Lots of hay is upwards of 3% of the body weight of the horse. So, you used to feed 2%, started working your horse and found he was loosing weight. You up the hay to 30 pounds per day and the horse is still loosing weight. Add grain. There are many mixes available, some are sweet feed, some are dry, some claim a high protein level (and as such almost always include extra selinium). What`s a person to do? Look at you analysis of your hay. Do you need the extra protein? Not usually. Do you need the extra stuff? Sometimes. If you haven`t done all the analysis, pick a mixed grain that you can find locally and is available all the time. This way you won`t be changing your feed each time you go buy hay. (Remember, this is for the person whose been confused. Not for the scientific person who is analysing every gram of feed.) Start with a pound per day, and go up to about 6 pound per day if needed, over a month or more. Two feedings per day or more is better than one.
What is the best oil and do you need it? The "natural" horse doesn`t down a quart of oil per day. But then again, the "natural" horse isn`t asked to work at the level of an endurance horse either. Lets say you are feeding your horse 25 pounds of hay (the horse wouldn`t eat the 30 pounds any more because you added in 5 pounds of grain), you are working your horse harder, and he is still loosing weight. Now, add a bit of oil. Cold pressed, corn oil, canola, what? How much?
Oil adds calories. It may add a few vitamines as well, depending on what you buy, but the real reason for oil is calories. Oil goes bad, rancid, quickly if left to the air or sun. So, either keep it very cold and in a closed container, or buy small amounts at one time. Personally, I get generic vegetable oil. What ever you like, what ever your horse will eat is good. Start with only 1/4 cup poured over the grain. You can up the amount of oil to a cup per day with no problems. But, eventually, the oil will be doing no good and you`ll start seeing a runny stool.
Beet pulp is a good sorce of fiber. Depending on the hay you have, beet pulp can be used to replace some, but not all of the dry hay. Read and follow the instructions on beet pulp carefully. Soak the beet pulp for many hours (but not near a squirel:-).
A very important element. At home, give free access to clean water. A horse will drink from some really discusting looking ponds, but you can provide better.
SALT And ELECTROLYTES
The horse should have access to salt at home. This might be a salt block, or loose salt.
The horse does not need regular doses of Electrolytes when just standing around. Even when it is hot and the horse is sweating don`t give the electrolytes - other than your salt block. When you go out and exercise hard, then give electrolytes if you think you need them.
Vitamines, minerals, probiotics, you name it, it`s out there. Before giving suppliments, find out what your horse needs. You might just need to boost your horse`s diet with one or two suppliments. If you think you need more, then you had better be doing a complete analysis of everything your horse has been eating. Not all the suppliments are good together. And adding more, could just screw up the horse`s system.
AT AN ENDURANCE RIDE
So, you`ve trained hard, you`ve been feeding all the right stuff at home, now what do you feed at the ride? DON"T MAKE DRASTIC CHANGES. If you have not been feeding grain, don`t start now. You`ll make your horse sick. If you haven`t been feeding beet pulp, don`t start now. Don`t change your hay.
Always feed as much hay as the horse will eat. If you are doing more than a 25 mile ride, you should probably be feeding electrolytes. If you are doing a 25 mile ride, you might want to feed electrolytes.
Then the experts come in and tell you many different feeding strategies. Feed extra this, don`t feed that, add in some suppliments. Before deciding, ask yourself what does your horse need? What is your level of competition? What has the horse been eating? What makes sense to you?
If you feed exactly the same as you have been at home, (and that diet is a good one), you shouldn`t run into any problems. You`ll need to feed more, and preferably at every vet check, but you don`t have to feed differently. You horse should perform as he does at home. If you don`t think that level of performance is good enough, then look at your basic feeding at home, and see if you can`t improve performance at home first.
We all want the most out of our horses. This forum is a great place to learn. But before you start micro managing your feeding program, you do need to learn all the basics, and understand what is going on. So, for those of us (and I include myself here) who want a good performance, but might not care or need to be the very front runner, start with the basics of good nutrition, before you start tinkering.
What Do I Feed?
It`s been asked before, so I`ll go out on a limb and tell you all. I`ve got four horses at home that are all very different. I have 40 acres of what might be called pasture - mountains, rocks, and some grass. In winter the grass is dry to non-existent.
Pharalina, ex-endurance horse, 21 years old, colic sensitive, and dead lame. She gets in winter, 1 pound of mixed grain, 1 pound of Equine Senior, and once a week or when the weather does a major change, a mash of the above with a cup of bran mixed in. She gets as much hay as she wants.
Elliot, 2 years old. 1 pound of mixed grain. Enough hay for him based on weight.
Dragon, 5 years old, trail and dressage work. He`s my air fern. No grain, barely enough hay to maintain a horse half his size.
Drake, 7 years old, endurance and dressage. 6 pounds of grain. As much hay as he`ll eat. During endurance season, he`ll also get a bit (1/2 pound) of the equine senior. He might get 1/4 to 1/2 cup of generic vegetable oil if he fails to keep his weight on. At a ride, he gets all the hay he can eat. He`ll get his normal grain ration, plus a pound of equine senior soaked in lots of water, plus water, all in different buckets at his trailer. At the vet checks, I`ll give him a bucket with 1/2 pound of grain, 1/2 pound of equine senior, a couple of carrots or apples, all soaked in water. Plus a flake of hay. I use electrolytes the night before, the morning of, and at each vet check.
My hay is a mix of brome, timathy, and orchard grass. Some years, I`ll buy some alfalfa mix too. My grain is a sweet feed with corn, oats and barley, no garantee of protein level. I`m in a selinium toxic area so don`t want to add anything with selinium in it.
Who is right? Who is wrong? Should I listen? Listen and learn. I sure do. Is one person right or wrong?
Personally, my teacher is Dr. Ralston. She`s got the education and research to back up what she says, and she rides and vets at endurance rides. And she`s a friend. Many times, I`ve read something and then turned to her and asks "What about this?"
There are others on this board - Tom and Susan, a few other vets out there, and many experienced endurance riders. I listen to them all. I think about what they say. I try to learn from them all. Then I figure out what is right for me and mine.