“Performance horse” makes us think of things like speed work, endurance, upper level eventing and showing, but it’s much more than that.
These are performance horses too.
Let’s define performance horses as those being asked to perform work in excess of their regular activity. Feral horses travel as much as 20 miles per day in search of adequate food, water and salt. If you consider that as a baseline, horses grazing on good pastures or standing around in a stall or paddock all day have a long way to go to match it. Not so for a horse being ridden.
Keeping things at the walk for a moment, the feral horse is doing a lot less work than one carrying a rider. If you doubt that, try going about your daily activities wearing a back pack containing 1/5 of your weight. Carrying weight roughly triples the energy burned. An occasional stroll through the fields is one thing but if your horse is regularly doing trail rides, he’s a performance horse. So is a horse or pony taking care of beginner riders several hours a day.
Obviously there is a difference between those horses and a horse in endurance training or any other extremely strenuous effort but they are more alike than you might think in the ways their bodies have to adapt.
As always, calories is the easy part. Increased calorie requirements depend on the individual metabolism (e.g. Thoroughbred versus air fern Morgan), duration and intensity of exercise. Your, or your trainer’s,. experience with the individual and work type will determine how much to feed. The bottom line is always to maintain an appropriate body condition score.
However, when the speed of the work increases to trot or canter on a regular basis, this requires an adaptation of the muscle metabolism above and beyond what is needed by a feral horse moving around primarily at the walk. Carrying weight and advanced movements also increase demands on the muscle compared to what the horse’s genetics provide at a baseline.
A robust response to the demands of exercise is facilitated by a targeted blend of key amino acids, minerals, vitamins and metbolites plus adaptogens to support a balanced stress response. Some horses struggle in specific areas such as breathing or have muscular challenges like meeting training milestones or muscular bulk.
Whatever the issue, there is supplemental support to help.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD