Controlled Performance

Encouraging a Controlled Performance

A willing and responsive horse is crucial for a winning performance. Outside of competition, behaviour is a key factor in developing a positive and rewarding relationship between horse and owner/ rider. A calm horse that is willing to do what is asked of him helps to ensure that schooling sessions are constructive and hacks are relaxed and enjoyable for both horse and rider.

How diet plays a role
It is generally accepted that diet can negatively affect behaviour either by oversupplying energy (calories) or providing high levels of non-structural carbohydrate (starch and sugar). For generations horsemen and women have found certain feeds to have a ‘heating’ effect and whilst the mechanism for this remains unclear, some studies have supported the suggestion that diet may influence behaviour.

 

  • What the science says
    • Fat and fibre diets
      Horses were found to be less active at rest and less reactive to noise and visual stimulus when fed a high oil diet vs. a high starch diet (Holland et al 1996).
    • Positive beginnings
      Adult behaviour is influenced from very early on in life and good behaviour generally suggests a calm temperament and willingness in the horse to do what is asked of it. A study conducted by Nicol et al (2005) found foals fed a fibre and oil based diet were calmer and more inquisitive in response to novel objectives and less stressed after weaning compared to foals on a starch rich diet.
  • How you can help
    • Feed according to the horse’s current body condition score
      to avoid an excess supply of energy in the diet.
    • Maximise forage intake, ideally feeding ad lib.
      Many horses and ponies at rest or in light work will consume sufficient energy to maintain condition from forage alone. In these situations, the addition of a balancer is the ideal way to ensure that the diet provides sufficient levels of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, without excess energy, starch or sugar. It is recommended that all horses consume a minimum of 15g of forage per kilogram of bodyweight dry matter (1.5% bodyweight dry matter) per day (reference).
    • Control starch intake
      When additional energy (calories) are required, choose fibre and oil based feeds. Gram for gram, oil is approximately 2.5 times higher in energy compared to cereals and starch free. Choosing fibre and oil rather than cereal based feeds therefore enables you to provide a high level of energy (calories) whilst also restricting starch intake.
    • Do calming supplements really work?
      Whilst many owners have reported positive effects after feeding ‘calming supplements’, all evidence to support such claims has until recently been anecdotal. However, in a recent study 10g of magnesium from magnesium aspartate was seen to significantly reduced reaction speed in response to a stimulus (Dodd et al, 2015), providing the first scientific evidence that supplementary magnesium (magnesium aspartate) may influence behaviour in some horses.
      All feed and supplements for horses competing under FEI/ BHA rules should be BETA NOPS approved.
  • References
    • Dodd, J. A., Doran, G., Harris, P., Noble, G.K., 2015. Magnesium aspartate supplementation and reaction speed response in horses. Equine Veterinary Science 35, 401-402.
    • Holland, J.L., Kronfeld, D.S., Meacham, T.N. 1996b. Behavior of horses is affected by soy lecithin and corn oil in the diet. J. Anim. Sci. 74, 1252-1255.
    • Nicol, C.J., Badnell-Waters, A. J., et al., 2005. The effects of diet and weaning method on behaviour in young horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 95, 205-221.