Nutrition Recommendations for the Performance Horse

Do you wish you could have a calmer horse, reduce or eliminate longing 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 into the horse can have a calming effect. Sugar plus starch is “NSC,” short for non-structural carbohydrates. We need to reduce the total intake of NSC (i.e. percent x lb 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 14% NSC 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 reduction in NSC intake - but, in so doing, they are also reducing the intake of essential nutrients (amino acids, vitamins and minerals), which can negatively affect the horse's general body condition, topline, hair coat and hoof quality.
All feeds have recommended feeding levels on the bag or tag. These amounts are what a horse needs to consume to achieve proper intake rates of all nutrients. If we feed 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 consuming and use a lower percent NSC product, while still meeting essential nutrient requirements. This requires the feed to have higher concentrations of essential 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 Essential K®. Essential K®, a ration balancer, is 12.5% NSC with very low feeding rates (1-2 lb per day). It has optimal essential nutrient 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 traditional feeds. Should the horse require more calories than what Essential K® can provide, we should consider Kalm 'N EZ® Pellet or Senior Sport™, which provide calories through quality fat and highly digestible fiber sources.

D.J. Burke, Ph.D.