Nutrition Recommendations for the Performance Horse

Do you wish you could have a calmer horse, reduce or eliminate longeing time and help your horse maintain better focus in training and the show pen?   All while maintaining his general body condition, topline, hair coat and hoof quality. Let’s evaluate the situation and find an answer

We have learned a tremendous amount about the interaction of nutrition with behavior in the past few years.  We now know that reducing the amount of Starch AND Sugar going to the horse can have a calming effect. We call sugar plus starch in a feed “NSC,” short for non-structural carbohydrates. We need to reduce the total intake of NSC (i.e. percent x pounds fed), not just the percent of NSC.

For example, a horse being fed 6 pounds of feed that is 14% NSC would be taking in 0.84 pounds of NSC (0.14 x 6). A horse eating a feed designed to be fed at 2 pounds per day would be taking in 0.28 pounds of NSC (0.14 x 2). Further, an inexpensive sweet feed may be 45% NSC and have a feeding rate of 6 pounds per day – which results in an NSC intake of 2.7 pounds!
It is important to recognize there is a tremendous variation from horse-to-horse in how NSC affects his behavior and/or body.  Horses that are in heavy work growing, pregnant or lactating can tolerate higher NSC levels than the idle, mature horse.
Many folks reduce the amount of feed a horse is getting to calm them down – in essence achieving the above reduction in NSC intake.  But, in so doing, they also are reducing the intake of all other critical, “non-calorie” nutrients (amino acids, vitamins and minerals) which negatively affect his general body condition, topline, hair coat and hoof quality.
All feeds have recommended feeding levels on the bag or tag. These amounts are what the company believes a horse needs to ensure the proper intake of all nutrients. If one feeds less than the recommended amount, it is like taking only a fraction of a medication your doctor prescribes.
Thus, to reduce the total NSC intake, we have to reduce the amount of feed the horse is getting, use a lower percent NSC product, but still meet the other nutrient requirements. This requires the feed to have higher concentrations of the non-calorie nutrients
There is a common belief that high protein causes hyperactivity.  This is not true, unless the protein level exceeds the requirement by an estimated two-fold.
In addition, many supplement companies promote products with higher magnesium and/or B-vitamins like thiamin. Without reduction in NSC intake, these will have little effect.

What is the answer?
The product which provides the most complete nutritional package in a true “low NSC” design is Tribute Equine Nutrition’s Essential K. Essential K is formulated to be approximately 11% NSC, with very low feeding rates (1-2 pounds per day). The product has optimal amino acid balance and vitamin and mineral levels that meet or exceed the new NRC 2007 requirements for horses. When fed as recommended, Essential K can be less expensive to feed per day than other feeds.

D.J. Burke, Ph.D.