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We Are Flying Solo

December 9, 2010

Rocket Fuel And Other Stories

So I have been reading about nutrition (the horse's, not mine, who cares about that?).  Why?  Well, because I don't want to do the actual work I am SUPPOSED to do, so why not. And if it has the word "horse" in it, then it is a pre-ordained given that I must read it. Who am I to argue with those that ordain??

Lots of interesting things to share with you. How horses use their feed, what different types of feed items offer, and what magical food will make your horse grow a unicorn horn (calm down, lifeshighway, one of these items may or may not be fictional).

Those of us who grew up obsessed with horses learned many important horse-keeping rules that have been passed down through generations. One of those things that I always heard was that you never worked your horse hard right after he ate. Much like nagging Aunt Margaret told you never to swim right after you ate or else you'd surely get a cramp and drown. I always held equal skepticism for both. Turns out, I was partly justified.

After your horse eats, his body begins to metabolize his food. This means that his blood insulin will spike, which reduces the efficiency with which the body burns fat (fat is generally the go-to energy resource for horses). So, if they need energy when insulin levels are high, their bodies will instead turn to stored glycogen reserves first. While this is hardly deadly, glycogen is something you want to save until you really need it (I'll explore why in the next post).

So, what's a rider to do? Well, you have two choices. It takes about four hours for that insulin spike to return to baseline. So you can (a) wait four hours (Suck! Who wants to do that?!) or (b) ride immediately. That's right, the spike doesn't really get up there for about two hours, so if you hop on within thirty minutes, you can have your ride and then put Dobbin away before he has to switch over from fat metabolism. What you want to try to avoid is hitting it right on that two hour mark, when insulin levels are highest and burning fat is the most difficult.

Now, obviously, we're not going to get this right every single ride, but it's something to shoot for as a general trend and a handy bit of info you can toss out if someone tries to give you crap for riding your horse right after he ate.

Scorecard: Science, 1, Naysayers, 0!


  1. Just to throw another little something out there for you to research... Check out AERC's education or google endurance horse feeding. Most endurance riders feed their horses a mix of beet pulp, hay, and concentrates (grain/pellets) before the ride starts and during the vet checks in the middle of the ride- and then keep on riding!
    Chapter 4 in the handbook is an OK place to start:

    Personally, during competition season, i would feed my horse about 1.5 pounds of grain per day of work (about every other day). 4 days before competition, I would rest the horse and feed him soaked beet pulp and .5lb of grain per day. Evening before the ride he gets this same feeding. For ride day, I double his grain ration and divide it up through out the day- mixed with beet pulp or soaked alfalfa chops. He gets 1.5 lbs divided up before and during the ride and 1.5 pounds in the evening. This gives him plenty of energy throughout the ride and guarantees he won't tank at the end of the ride when he could potentially be out of energy.

    Of course, every horse and rider have a different strategy, but that works for me!

  2. Interesting! I was always told to wait 30 minutes, so I guess that was correct (although it was for not the correct reasons).

    I have to say, what I was taught about horse nutrition as a kid is pretty close to being completely wrong. While what I know now is probably the tip of the iceberg, I do feel like I am better able to manage a horse's nutrition.

    Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of horse owners don't want to be bothered, and just leave it up to the stable to decide. At my old barn (which was actually quite well-run), the standard feeds were a super-crappy bottom-of-the-line CHEAP pellet or a 9000% NSC sweet feed. And that was being fed to a laminitic horse -- awesome!! I had to pay extra for quality feed, and then I was all mad-scientist and mixed in the flax, supplements, etc. myself, in a perfect pony parfait; overseeing horse nutrition is SO great for my OCD!!

  3. Hahahha, it IS OCD fun, Frizz, I'm with you there!

    Heather, shhhh, you are ruining my surprise for the next post!!!! ;-P We'll be talking about different dietary demands for different disciplines. Since lifeshighway also rides endurance, we chat about this one a lot. The type of energy demands an endurance racer has are very different than those of an eventer when it comes to competition time.

  4. Great information I am eager to soak it all in!

  5. That is really useful info to have, thanks! I always ride Miles right after he has most of his beet pulp (though not all). Good to know it's not hurting him:) He always seemed fine anyway.

  6. Wait, what about the food for getting the magical unicorn horn?

  7. I gave you fair warning, lh, fair warning...

  8. Interesting..b/c JUST today I worked Laz after his lunch and I was like "Great,I'm going to kill my horse"
    Turns out, it was the good thing to do. And by work out, I mean a light prance around ;)

  9. Heyyy, I want McKinna to grow a unicorn horn too!

    McKinna gets such little grain that I don't worry about it too much. I put it away so she gets it after my ride if I get the chance, but if she has already eaten by the time I get out there, I don't worry about it too much.

  10. I can only reveal the unicorn horn secret if you send me one million dollars in gold coins. Or entry fees to four Training level events. The coins may be the cheaper option.

  11. *whispers* Unicorn horns are (unfortunately) phallic symbols, so maybe we should just pass on them. ;-) Ew.

  12. Hey, I didn't say I wanted one, Frizz...but it appears that some other folks do! LOL!

  13. Can't remember how I ended up on this old post, but I wondered about a different aspect of this. I thought the reason one did not work a horse immediately after eating was due to the stomach being close to the heart and lungs, so it would not be easy to use those to capacity on a full stomach. Is this a bit of a myth as well?

  14. Kelly, I don't have any sources to cite on that one, but just putting on my zoology hat, I cannot find any credence in that statement. I would say, in the simplest terms, guts are squishy -- expanding working organs could easily mash digestive organs out of the way. If I recall correctly, both the diaphragm and the liver lie between the cardiovascular organs and the stomach, so I don't see a conflict there.