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Feeding High-Performance Horses

High-level performance horses require a particular combination of ingredients and nutrients in their diet to be at their best while performing. A proper diet may be the difference between a winning horse and a losing one.

The following is a summary of some of the ingredients or nutrients that may make a difference:

High fat or added fat feeds

High fat feeds may improve endurance, reduce the risk of certain types of metabolic problems, provide energy while having a calming effect on the horse, and reduce the heat load on a horse during hot weather. Corn oil, soy oil, canola oil and high fat rice bran are preferred by most owners. Animal fat can be used, but may be less palatable. It requires a minimum of about 10 days-2 weeks on a high fat diet to get maximum benefit.

Energy Content

There are many comparisons made about the energy levels of feeds, particularly when high fat feeds or highly digestible fiber sources are used. Digestible energy (DE) is becoming more widely used to compare feeds. Energy can come from fiber, fat, starch and protein. As we feed performance horses, we try to maximize the energy from high quality fiber and from the appropriate level of fat. Protein is an inefficient energy source. Starch overloads can be the source of digestive problems, such as colic.

Lower protein levels

Lower protein levels with propamino acid balance may improve performance, as it limits the excess nitrogen produced when extra protein is used as an energy source. The first limiting amino acids are lysine, methionine, and threonine. Methionine is beneficial to hoof quality and hair coat.


  • Calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc - For bone growth.
  • Potassium - Has gained attention, particularly with HYPP horses. Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) is an inherited disease of the muscle which is caused by a genetic defect. Suggestions are to avoid alfalfa and high molasses feeds.
  • Selenium - Potentially useful in the prevention of many exercise-related problems (tying-up syndrome, etc.).
  • Chromium - Not currently approved as an additive for commercial horse feed, but is gaining some traction with performance horse owners. The only approved use is for swine feeds.


  • Vitamin E - Good for horses prone to muscle or fatigue-related problems.
  • Biotin - For hoof and hair growth and quality. Best when used in combination with methionine.
  • Vitamin C - May be beneficial for stressed horses. Vitamin A and D levels should be monitored, as it is possible to produce toxic levels.


Many probiotics products are on the market and in feeds, primarily yeasts and Lactobacillus. These products may improve fiber digestion and maintain appetite, and are a source of B vitamins.

Nutraceutical products

Many nutraceutical products are on the market with various health claims, with more on the way. Some of the research has been very limited and is based on claims and anecdotal evidence. However, these products may work on some horses.