SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

December 22, 2010

Filling And Refueling The Tank

Now we are all experts on equine metabolism, right?  And I am rolling in the glee of all my fellow science nerds who have come out of the woodwork!

We know that the horse must also be fit if he is going to do his job well. We know that he needs fat and glycogen stores in place in order to answer the energy demands of his muscles. He needs carbohydrates and fats in order to stock his larders and replenish his stores after a workout.

So should we stuff him full of fat and sugar so he will have fuel busting out his ears? Only if you want him to die of colic and laminitis at the same time. Equine digestive systems cannot handle "loading" of substances the way a human system would. Studies have demonstrated that it will take 24-48 hours for a horse to completely refill his glycogen tanks after a hard workout, so it's best to offer him a meal 60-90 minutes after he's tapped them and then, if he has really drained the well, a second meal can be offered about three hours later.

How much fat he will need on a daily basis will depend on your horse. I like to at least top dress feed during heavy work/competition with something that is around 22-26% fat. Fat supplies 2.5 times more energy pound for pound than starches. Solo's normal food (SafeChoice) is 7% fat and I can tell you, that even with 14% protein, it does not give him a big "bang" of energy. This is because protein cannot be stored and any that is not immediately used is just peed out. So I will add something like rice bran pellets or Empower at 22% fat on top of his meals in the spring and fall.

Here's another interesting little tidbit -- if you supplement a horse's diet with fat, he uses less energy for heat production in his body. He then has more energy available to do other stuff with. Like a lot more. Like up to 60% more.

OMG, fat is awesome!

But you don't want to go overboard -- if the fat content of the diet gets too high, you can actually inhibit the storage of muscle glycogen (that's that thing we really need for anaerobic activities like galloping and jumping, remember?). Which is basically shooting yourself in the foot.

So, in the end, it comes back to common sense -- all things in moderation. But if we understand WHY, we can better tweak the details of our management programs. Because it's just not as much fun when you are kicking your horse's guts out just to stumble across the finish line in cross country and slide off while he gasps in exhaustion. It's not very satisfying to try to pilot him around a challenging stadium course when he's got no gas in the tank and you wonder if the next set of jump poles might end up in your face. But if you give Dobbin the resources he needs to get the job done and condition his body so that he can maximize the energy you put in, then you'll still have plenty of gas left for that victory gallop at the end of the day.


  1. I'm a big fan of Triple Crown Senior, which is 10% fat (and low, low, low in NSCs!), top-dressed with flax seed and Cocosoya oil for additional fat. I've also used rice bran pellets like Max-E-Glo as a fat supplement and had great results with it. (I like the Max-E-Glo because it has a balanced calcium-phosphorus ratio.)
    Yaaaaaaay, feed OCD nerds!

  2. Oh, and I just want to plug the book "How To Help Your Horse Live A Good, Long Life," which has a great section about feed in it. It definitely opened my eyes about grains/feeds.

  3. Hmmmm, this is interesting food for thought (Pun very much intended :)

    Once we get into full-blast training and competing this summer, I may add a fat supplement to McKinna's food. Is that a good idea even though she's an easy keeper? I am all for more energy being available to her when she needs it!

  4. MM, I think it is indeed worth trying. If she's in a steady program, she should readily burn plenty enough fat to keep her from gaining weight. Their bodies do have to "learn" to use the increased fat though. I.e. you wouldn't just give it a few days before a horse trial, you'd give it a month or two in advance and then challenge their body through their regular work program so that it gets used to using the new increased fuel source.

  5. Well, thanks to my post on equisearch I don't think I even need to say a word on fat in my horse's diets.
    OCD feed nerds unite!!!!!!!!!!