Key Feeding Challenges for the Sports and Leisure Horse

by Briony Witherow March 27, 2022 3 min read

Key Feeding Challenges for the Sports and Leisure Horse

Challenge: Insufficient energy levels

A lack of “oomph” or stamina can be a common challenge faced by sports horses. While diet is only one piece of the puzzle, it can certainly be something to tick off your list when addressing the problem.


  • Check bodyweight and condition: carrying too much or too little body condition can impact time to fatigue, the same goes for muscle and general fitness. Essentially, is the horse equipped for the job that is being asked of him? Once this and any potential health or pain has been ruled out, do a ration audit.
  • Is the ration balanced? Check you are feeding the recommended amount for the size and workload of your horse. Check the feed is appropriate for your horse – is it designed for the workload intended? Don’t forget salt and electrolytes – these are a key part of ensuring a balanced ration, and are essential for recovery.

If you have ticked these off your list, investigate dietary changes which may help to promote energy./p>

  • The first step here is to decide which type of energy is lacking – is it sparkle or stamina? You can then look at adapting where energy is sourced from in the ration: crudely speaking starch and sugar provides faster release energy, while fats and fibre provide slow-release energy. For example, a feed that provides most of its energy from cereals and is therefore high in starch will offer more “oomph” type energy than one that is high in oil.
  • If you’re still looking to tailor your horse’s diet further, you can consider products such as Ly-Pic+, L-Carnitine or Equine Energiser which are designed to promote efficiency of energy production – the cherry on top of your ration.

Case Study:

Horse: Teddy, 6-year-old, 16.2hh (620kg) Warmblood, competing at Elementary Dressage (in light to moderate work). Teddy’s energy levels are inconsistent, and he can really struggle when he is out competing in several classes. Teddy is a body condition score of 6 out of 9.

p>Current Diet: Ad lib hay and daily turnout, 1kg Spillers Horse and Pony Nuts with a handful of Hi-Fi Lite divided over two meals.

p>Solution: Teddy’s body condition could be reduced so that he is leaner – remember that body condition score should be specific to the horse and his job. This could be addressed by increasing his workload so that we can also rule out fitness as a potential barrier. Diet wise, Teddy is unlikely to be getting a balanced ration – by comparing the feeding rate of the Horse and Pony Nuts to the manufacturers recommendations we can see that his diet is unlikely to be balanced.
There are several options when it comes to balancing the ration, one would be to stick with the Horse and Pony Nuts and just ‘top up’ with a feed balancer or vitamin and mineral powdered supplement, another would be to simplify the ration and replace the Horse and Pony Nuts with either of these options and increase the quantity of Hi-Fi Lite. In addition to either of these options, feeding 1-2 tablespoons of salt in the daily ration alongside electrolytes would be recommended.

Initial Recommended Ration:

1kg Horse and Pony Nuts
Handful Hi-Fi Lite
30g Selenavite E
50g Everyday Electrolyte
1-2 tablespoons of Salt or access to a 2.5kg Salt Lick lasting approximately two months

If Teddy was still struggling with energy levels and if body condition was still on the heavier side, you could consider removing the Horse and Pony Nuts completely and replacing with the full daily recommended amount of a feed balancer/vitamin and mineral supplement. If body condition were reduced with the increased exercise, but perhaps muscle was lacking, you could consider switching the chaff to an alfalfa based product (such as Alfa A Lite) as a first step and reassess after six weeks.

It is important when making ration changes to only make one at a time and be patient as results will not be instant.

If Teddy was still struggling after ensuring body condition, muscle and fitness was suitable and the ration balanced, depending on whether he lacked sparkle or stamina, we could consider either changing the base of the ration to promote slow or fast release energy sources OR the addition of supplements which improve energy production.

Remember, one of the many wonderful things about nutrition is that there are many different ways to achieve a balanced ration, the scenario above is just one of them.

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