A high point of any big race day is catching up with friends and other like-minded horse lovers over some light refreshments. But as you sip and nibble your way through a happy hour have you ever wondered what our champions of the turf are nourished on?

Nutrition has a massive impact not only on racehorse performance but also their mental and physical wellbeing. Feed a racehorse too little energy-rich food and it won’t have the fuel to win while too much forage and you’ll weigh it down.

Likewise, while you might meet their perfect nutritional needs you could leave them feeling anxious and frustrated if they’re unable to indulge their natural feeding behaviours.

If you want an insight into what racehorses eat and drink on a normal day then read our handy guide.

Remember, as well as taking care of their nutritional needs with a well-planned feeding programme, responsible horse ownership also requires you to have adequate insurance for your horse in place.


Feeding for performance

Horses naturally graze and browse in pasture for up to 17 hours per day eating up to 2-3% of their body weight.

This also allows normal foraging behaviour as they seek out the nutrition they need and increase their intake of high-quality food. However, from a young age, racehorses are stabled so their food intake can be thoroughly planned, carefully managed and strictly adhered to.

Horses in training are often fed readily digested concentrated foods that are consumed far more rapidly than less energy-rich natural forage such as hay or grass. Like professional human athletes, they have high energy demands to keep them at their physical peak.

Indeed, the average racehorse needs around 35,000 calories a day, which is roughly twice as much as a regular horse in pasture!

A horse being hand fed a carrot

A racehorse’s diet

To keep a racehorse performing at the highest level and looking fit and healthy, it must be fed the right mix of foods. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and providing the best diet for a racehorse requires a lot of knowledge and experience.

The perfectly balanced feeding program might not, on its own, prevent all health problems or injuries. But it can help prevent fatigue and ensure your equine athlete continues to develop naturally even once its racing career is over.

Horse insurance through Equesure is available for horses throughout their lives. Whether your racehorse has just started its racing career or is soon to retire, we can help you protect your equine friend.  

The main elements of a racehorse’s feed should include the following:

  • Fibre – Crucial for maintaining a healthy digestive system, fibre in forage is also an excellent source of energy. A horse’s hindgut contains billions of bacteria and protozoa capable of fermenting the fibre and providing energy long after a meal has been eaten. As the foundation of a healthy feeding programme, racehorses should be fed around 1.5% to 2.5% of their body weight in forage a day. It also helps protect against gastric ulcers and colic.
  • Starch – To complement such slow energy release feeds, racehorses also need additional quick release energy sources. Traditionally, these extra calories needed to fuel the racehorse were supplied by the starch in cereal grains such as oats, corn, and barley. Although more trainers are now turning to specialist concentrates for the racehorse as these have important vitamins and minerals added.
  • Fat – Excellent for skin, coat, hooves and joints, fat is also an attractive energy source for racehorse feed as it supplies a lot of calories in a concentrated form. Even though horses don’t consume much fat in the wild, they can digest fats efficiently, particularly those in vegetable oils.
  • Protein – Racehorses need an excellent quality protein source to promote superb muscle tone, tissue development and recovery post exercise. However, excessive protein intake needs to be avoided as it can cause a range of health issues from intestinal disturbances to respiratory problems.

While a healthy balanced diet should provide everything the horse needs, sometimes a vitamin and mineral supplement might be needed to deal with certain conditions.

Finally, in view of the amount of exercise a racehorse does in training, it’s important not to underestimate how much sodium and chloride they can lose through sweating.

Salt is the one nutrient horses will consume in amounts adequate to meet their needs so make sure it’s freely available.


Water wonders

Just as with all living things, water is essential for a racehorse. In order to be thoroughly hydrated an inactive horse in a cool environment needs between seven and 10 gallons a day. While a horse in training in a warmer environment might need to drink up to 20 gallons to stay hydrated.

Horses will sweat during exercise so competing in a race could result in them losing between six and eight gallons of water – representing around 10% of their entire water reserves. No wonder they’re so thirsty after a race!

Dirty or stale water will put horses off from drinking so it’s vital they have constant access to clean fresh supply. Some commercially available feeds are soaked pre-feeding so as to help with water intake and keep the digestive system functioning properly.

A horse drinking out of a water trough

Horse insurance fit for a Thoroughbred

Whether a happy hacker or a Grand National winner, taking care of a horse is a significant investment in both time and money. However, by arranging suitable insurance cover you can be assured of help with any unexpected costs.

With over 60 years’ combined experience in the equine insurance market, our team of caring specialists are well aware of the pressures that many horse owners can be under.

Benefits of specialist horse insurance policies arranged through Equesure can include:

  • Vets’ fees up to £5,000 per incident, but with unlimited number of claims within the policy year
  • Saddlery and tack cover
  • Personal accident cover up to £20,000
  • Public liability cover up to £2 million

We also provide horse rider insurance and cover for your transport so you’ll never get stranded.

Call our horse insurance team and get a quick quote today.

Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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