Horses come in all different shapes and sizesNot all diets are equal, especially when comparing horse breeds with different requirements and . Whilst a general diet needs to be healthy and balanced so as to avoid issues such as obesity or laminitis, there is quite a difference between the needs of a racehorse, for example, and that of a riding pony. In the same way athletes need more energy to help with fuel performance, a thoroughbred racehorse also requires the highest requirement for levels of energy. For ponies, it is usually a case of trying to restrict their energy intake so they don’t become unhealthily overweight whilst balancing their need to eat for around 16-18 hours a day!
So, in what way does their diet differ and are there any special requirements needed compared to a pony?
The Unnatural Life of a Thoroughbred
Due to how much more active their lives are, a thoroughbred racehorse requires huge amounts of energy to keep going gallop. So much more in fact that it’s around usually 5x or 6x that of their natural daily intake and more compared to that of a pony. Their size difference also plays an important factor, with a pony characteristically smaller than a thoroughbred but the huge difference also comes from the increased energy required for training and racing. For example, a 500 kgs racehorse will require around 150MJ per day to maintain its energy levels, whereas a 200 kgs pony will only need approximately 25-30MJ. This is all down to performance levels and how much energy they expel whilst racing or training.
Despite the differences in energy requirements, all horses and ponies have an inherent need to eat. A characteristic of a herbivore is that they spend long periods of time eating a lower density of food.On the surface, it would seem like a serious case of overfeeding and without exercise could easily lead to becoming overweight. This is why the same diet of a more energy dense horse food is used to increase energy intake, it can cause problems for the health of the horse’s digestive system. Common problems associated with energy dense horse feeds are gastric ulcers, colic and laminitis.
cannot be provided for breeds with much less energy-intensive workloads and needs to be equally managed, avoiding added sugar and ensuring a balance of protein, minerals and vitamins. The thoroughbred is also genetically different to a pony, meaning even without the special requirements for racing, the breed would still require a managed diet to help avoid issues such as muscle problems, colic and gastric ulcers. The last of which can develop due to the low fibre, high starch diet the horse will have during training.
Avoiding Overfeed with Ponies
As it is more likely you’ll have a breed requiring a far less energy-rich diet than a thoroughbred competing for top honours, the focus for pony and horse owners is usually should be weight management. A pony can quickly put on weight if they are free to consume unlimited pasture or forage. forage due to the sugar intake in grass and straw. The best way to combat this is to provide horse feed that is high in fibre and low in energy and if they are overweight, it is also important to use low sugar feeds to try and help reduce the risk of insulin dysregulation.that has no added sugar and is low in starch, especially if they appear to be getting overweight.
Allowing time to adjust to a new life
Once Even an ex-racehorses have finished their racing careers they may go to stud or become riding horses. It takes time for them to adjust to a new diet and it may take up to a year for them to put on weight and lose their racing physique! Even those who is used used to a diet with lower volumes of forage and low fibre needs to adjust to a more balanced diet to avoid obesity will adjust to high fibre diets and given time will usually thrive on a more natural feeding regime. This has the added benefit of providing slow release energy and so helps them to adjust to their new life in the slow lane!
. Usually the difficult part is reducing the energy intake but still maintaining the required levels of nutrients to stay healthy.
Being mindful of using commercial feeds and those for particular types of horse or pony will help to maintain equine health and make life as an owner much easier. Foraging is natural and part of your pony or horse’s routine, but keeping in mind their weight by structuring this around a managed diet can help avoid the risks of laminitis ever developing as well as other preventable issues.