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My horse is lacking in energy

My horse is lacking in energy

Written by Nia O’Malley

What can you DO?

There’s never a straight answer as there are so many factors involved that could be affecting your horse’s energy levels. Sometimes it can just be a matter of increasing the daily feed or switching to a higher energy feed, but in some cases it could be something quite simple that has been overlooked and that is affecting your horse and his performance.

Are you feeding enough?

It could be that you haven’t put enough fuel in the tank. Look at your horse, is he carrying enough body condition and muscle? If not, this is a good indication that you are not actually meeting his energy needs, and if he doesn’t have the calories in his diet to put on weight then he’s not going to have the calories to fuel work. It may simply be that he needs to get more feed. All horses are different, 3lbs a day might be more than enough for one horse, but another horse might need 6lbs a day. Look at your horse and assess body condition and increase feed if necessary.

Have you tried feeding a higher energy feed?

If body condition is fine and you’re happy that you are feeding enough try moving to a higher energy feed, for example move from Competition 12 Mix to Competition 14 Mix, or from Horse Care 10 Pellets to Horse Care 14 Pellets. Most feed brands have multiple options in their range with varying energy levels. In this way you can keep the quantity of feed you’re giving the same, but you are getting more energy per pound than you would have before.

Have you tried using feeds formulated from different energy sources?

There are various different energy sources used in the formulations of feeds, some are fast release ‘buzzy’ types of energy sources eg cereal grains, and some are slow release ‘calm’ types of energy sources eg fibers and oils. And even within those groupings energy provided can vary eg oats differs to barley, barley differs to corn, and with fibers, beet pulp, alfalfa meal and soybean hulls provide excellent energy sources, whereas fiber sources such as oat hulls and straw do very little. Look at the feed label and chose a feed that might suit your horse.


Could your horse possibly have an underlying gut issue?

All horses when in good health should respond when fed a good quality high energy feedstuff or increased feeding rates, if they don’t then it needs to be questioned as to why they don’t, and it strongly suggests that there may be an issue elsewhere, and in most cases this issue tends to be in the gut. Gut issues can really interfere with a horse’s performance.

Unfortunately, our response in cases like this is to feed more of the starch rich feed to try and increase energy levels, but we are actually seriously compounding the issue by doing so. The opposite in fact is what is needed if we are to fix the problem. We need to feed a fiber rich pellet, along with gut health supplements if we want to try and fix this issue. If the horse is given a chance to recover and hindgut health is restored, energy levels will almost certainly follow.

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Is your horse just tired?

Does your horse just need a break? Over-training is a common occurrence and needs to be considered if your horse is just not thriving, in energy, health, attitude, well-being, recovery rates. Some horses thrive on work and get very restless when given time off, but there are some horses that just need time off from it all.

Like us they can get burnt out and can easily get sour and lose heart. It may be worth backing off on training and the bigger classes and to let the horse have a chance to recover metabolically, physically and mentally. It is normal to reduce feed intake when workload is decreased, however always ensure to top-dress with a feed balancer during this time to ensure that the horse is still receiving all that he needs, so that he can come back in to work fully prepared and not have to play catch up nutritionally.

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Outside of energy are you meeting your horse’s requirements for everything else?

It may be that calorie intake and source is not the issue here, it may be that your horse is lacking in other nutrients eg amino acids, vitamins, minerals. Yes, energy supplies the fuel to do the work but as in a car, there are other factors involved in having the machine running optimally. Most performance feeds are formulated so that all requirements are met, however requirements will vary greatly depending on many factors: environment you’re working in, your training style, workload, surfaces you’re working on, show schedule, travel, forage quality, temperament of the horse, illness, growth stage of the horse, etc.

Top-dress with a feed balancer or a vitamin and mineral supplement?

Topdressing with a feed balancer or a multi vitamin and mineral supplement adds extra key nutrients to the diet. These key nutrients will assist the horse in utilizing the energy that is provided in the diet more efficiently, assist in overall muscle function, and improve post-exercise recovery rates, meaning that your horse works much more efficiently, recovers quicker, and is back in form for work the next day with a pep in his step.

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Are you meeting your horse’s protein requirements?

It is no secret that exercise leads to muscle growth and muscle development requires protein. Most horses when they begin their training require an increased intake of protein to meet the needs for muscle development. Once the horse has developed the muscle, it continues to have an on-going higher protein intake requirement to maintain muscle mass.

Typically, the increased protein requirements are met by increasing the volume of feed, in line with the increased energy needs of the horse. However, there are certain situations in which horses can have increased protein requirements: heavy work schedule, long showing season, returning to work after a long break, and young immature horses that have some developing to do.

Since protein is needed for many body functions, a deficiency of protein can result in serious problems. Commonly observed signs of protein deficiency include a rough dull coat, reduced hoof growth, poor appetite, and poor muscle cover and topline, poor recovery rates and poor performance.

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Is there an issue with red blood cell production?

Red blood cells carry oxygen to the working muscle where it is used in the production of energy and muscle contraction. If there is an issue with red blood cell production this can have a direct impact on energy levels and performance. Nutrients involved in red blood cell formation include iron, copper, zinc, and B vitamins, and deficiencies in any of these can have an impact on red blood cell formation, and in turn the horse’s energy levels.

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Could your horse benefit from B vitamin supplementation?

As key nutrients regulating energy release, B vitamins can impact a horse’s energy levels and performance. B vitamins play a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, in protein synthesis, energy transfer, and red blood cell production. Grazing provides a good source of B vitamins, and many B vitamins are synthesized in the hindgut of the horse, so supplementation is usually not necessary. However, if grazing is limited or if the horse is suffering from possible hindgut issues than supply of B vitamins might be limited, and supplementation would be advisable.

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Could you horses benefit from ubiquinol CoQ10 supplementation?

Ubiquinol CoQ10 is part of the natural equine diet and is essential for normal body function. It is present in all cells, providing a vital antioxidant function, but also playing an important role in the energy production process in the cell.

It is found in particularly high concentrations in cells, tissues and organs with high energy requirements, such as the muscles, heart and lungs. It is an essential nutrient in all horses, but in particular for performance horses where demands are very high, and deficiencies are common.

Production of ubiquinol CoQ10 within the body is a relatively slow process and is often not sufficient enough to replenish stores in horses that have high levels of oxidative stress, so should be supplemented to maintain normal body function.

Supplementation of ubiquinol CoQ10 in the working horse is essential to keep levels replenished and avoid deficiencies, which can lead to poor performance and prolonged post exercise recovery.

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Do you need to supplement with additional antioxidants?

Most performance feeds will be formulated to meet the demands of most competition horses, but there are certain situations where additional antioxidant supplementation is required. Horses with restricted pasture access, horses that travel often, horses competing in hot humid environments, older horses, horses working in poor air quality, could all do with additional antioxidant supplementation.

Antioxidants, putting it simply, help mop up the waste products of exercise and help restore and rebuild damaged tissue after work. They basically help the muscle recover and to work more efficiently. If your horse has poor antioxidant status this will be reflected in his performance and recovery, and you will find that he is lacking in energy, is listless, loses power during a workout and flattens out towards the end of a showing week. Always make sure that you are meeting your horse’s antioxidant requirements and supplement if necessary. Antioxidants include vitamin E, selenium, vitamin C, and ubiquinol CoQ10.

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Is your horse properly hydrated?

It seems like an obvious thing to point out but always make sure your horse is drinking enough. A poorly hydrated horse will have reduced energy levels. Always ensure the working horse is supplemented with electrolytes and sufficiently hydrated.

When we supplement with electrolytes, we are replenishing the sodium levels in the body and bringing on a thirst response so that the horse drinks and keeps hydrated. Supplementing the performance horse with electrolytes is critical, especially when working in a hot humid environment.

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Is your horse exposed to toxins?

Hot humid conditions are perfect conditions for the growth of molds and mycotoxins on feeding utensils (buckets, scoops), in feed tubs, on the walls around feed tubs, on stall walls and surfaces, in the bedding, on the hay. Molds we can see, the toxins that molds produce we cannot.

These mycotoxins can have serious detrimental effect on a horse’s health if they are ingested or inhaled and can affect immune health and performance. It is also a good idea to have the water tested.

There are any amount of toxins and bugs that could be in the water that could be having a serious effect on the health and performance of your horse. Often overlooked, this is something that is always needs to be considered when moving to a new barn, and definitely so if you’re having issues with your horse’s health performance and at a loss as to why.

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