Copyright thewayofhorses
                                                                                     Eleanor Richards
By Eleanor Richards
Copyright @ 2005

         Are you expecting your high performance engine to run on low octane fuel?
        O.K., I admit it - I use the cheapest fuel in the vehicle I drive everyday.  But, when I put fuel in my pick-up and expect it to pull the horse trailer, I use the higher octane.  If I don't, the truck does not have the energy to pull the hills or pass slower vehicles.  It pings, knocks and complains if I use the cheap stuff.

         Deciding which fuel to put into your horse will decide his performance.  Standing at the feed store counter trying to decide which horse feed to buy is like trying to decide which fuel to use in your truck.  Do you want regular, premium or super premium?  Do not make a decision based on price.

         Performance horses need energy.  The type of performance required will determine the type of energy required.
         Performance types can be broken down in to three groups: aerobic, anaerobic and a combination of the two.

          1. Aerobic - uses oxygen.  Production of energy using this method is beneficial to long-term exercise lasting for more than one hour.  Examples of these types of activities are trail riding, pleasure classes and endurance competition.

           2. Anaerobic - without oxygen.  This type of work is considered to be short-term and intense effort is expended.  Examples of this work are racing and speed events lasting about 3 minutes.

         3. Combination of aerobic and anaerobic. A cutting horse walking across the arena uses energy aerobically. But, once he starts the work of turning back the cow that wants to return to the herd he switches to using energy anaerobically.

         The longer a horse can work using energy aerobically the longer he will be able to perform.   This is called "glycogen sparing". 

       Glycogen is the main source of energy used for anaerobic work.  The longer we can put off using anaerobic energy the longer the horse will be able to work. 

         It has been discovered adding fat to the performance horse's diet will help delay the use of glycogen.  Fat is about 2.25 more energy dense than soluble carbohydrates (grain - oats, corn and barley).  It is also safer to feed.

          Feeding fat the day of the event will not achieve the desired results.  Horses need at least three weeks to adjust to the new diet.  Their digestive system has to learn how to utilize the new energy source.

         Just adding corn oil purchased from the grocery store to the diet will not work.  The processed products have had all the beneficial fatty acids removed.

         Reputable feed companies have designed products for the performance horse.  These products use a blend of fat sources; for example: linseed meal (ground flax), various vegetable oils and rice bran.  These products will also be fortified with vitamins and minerals.

         And because horses need digestible fiber in their diet many performance feeds also include beet pulp in the ration.  The fermentation of the fiber in the large intestine (cecum) creates fatty acids which is stored in the body as fat.  This is also available to the horse aerobically.

         Treat your horse like a high performance engine and you will go a lot farther without the pings, knocks and complaining.  

* Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses.  You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course "How to Feed for Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Richards.  Go to for more information.  Contact Eleanor at or (440) 554-3714