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Feeding for the Pandemic

Maintaining Health and Fitness in Red 

As horse owners adjust their plans for the season, based on a red traffic light setting, most large-scale shows have been forced to cancel. As well as being hugely disappointing for hard working event organisers, these changes can disrupt competition season too. Particularly for the North Island with the cancellation of so many shows last year. These inconsistencies and uncertainties can be challenging. However, certain measures can be taken to ensure your horse maintains fitness and  condition and is ready to compete when required, even if this may be short notice! 


Maintaining Condition and Fitness 

For those unsure of what the remainder of the season may bring, maintaining the horse’s condition and fitness with consistent work and feeding is crucial. A horse at peak fitness for an eventing or show-jumping season, can generally be maintained at peak (or just below) for two to three weeks. This may involve lighter work such as flat work and hacking out at least three times per week. This means if there are uncertainties about events in the coming month, the horse can still be ready for an event at short notice. 

Lighter work or time off in the paddock for longer than two weeks, will result in loss of cardiovascular and muscular fitness. The longer the time off, the longer it will take for the horse to return to previous fitness levels. In this instance it’s best to start with light work three to four times a week and build slowly from there.  

Care must be taken not to exert the horse above their fitness capabilities, to achieve fitness faster, as this can result in muscle soreness and injuries. Observing how much the horse sweats and the time it takes for their respiration to return to normal are good indicators of fitness. 



Optimum forage intake should always be a priority, regardless of what fitness level the horse is at. If pasture is low, ad-lib hay is recommended to ensure each horse is consuming at least 1.5 percent of their body weight in forage. Higher energy forages such as lucerne are ideal for when the horse is in hard work. Lucerne is also highly beneficial for buffering gastric acid and preventing stomach ulcers. 

Energy balance is important at this time and feed amounts should always be adjusted according to workload and body condition. If the horse is having a short break or time with less work, you can likely give the same feed they were getting during peak fitness, at lower levels. This ensures consistency in feeding and means that the feed can be increased easily when more work is required for an upcoming show. If feed levels decrease to below recommended amounts NRM Equine Balancer is ideal to ‘top up’ nutrients without adding calories to the diet. Performance horse feeds such as NRM Ultimate Sport or Sweet Feed and McMillan Protein Plus or Energy Max are ideal for peak performance.  

If behaviour changes occur when work levels decrease and the horse becomes more exuberant than  usual, adjusting energy sources to include less grain in the diet and more fat and fibre can help. Lower glycaemic options such as McMillan Grain Free, NRM Muscle Relieve or NRM Low GI Sport are ideal in this instance. 


Salt and Electrolytes  

These should be continued daily, with increased electrolytes on heavier workdays. If on complete turnout over the summer months, a salt block is recommended as well as additional salt in daily feeds. McMillan Electrolyte is ideal for working horses and formulated to replace the nutrients they lose through sweat in the correct proportions. 

It’s important that any nutrition and training programme is altered depending on the individual horse and changes made to accommodate setbacks such as injuries or illnesses, or training adaptations.  

For further nutritional advice and support during these times, or for a custom-made diet to suit your individual horse’s needs, contact your local NRM or McMillan Equine Nutritionist. 


Luisa Wood 

Equine Nutritionist 

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