Feeding Horses for Sales Preparation

Nutrition plays an important role in preparing sale horses, as having a quality feed program is essential to have horses looking and feeling their best.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Nutrition has an important role in sales preparation for all horses. If you want to maximize the value of the horse, it is essential to have the horse looking its best at sale time.

There are a number of key elements including the following:

  • Size and body condition: Young horses being prepped for sale should be on a smooth growth curve to avoid growth spurts and to reach optimum height at sale time. Size for appropriate age is a plus for most disciplines, and the sale horse should normally have a body condition score at 5 or slightly higher (on a 9-point scale).
  • Muscle, not fat: The modern sale ring rewards horses that have well-developed muscles rather than just being fat. Thin is not good, but obese is not desired.
  • Hair coat: Slick and shiny is always good. This will require a combination of grooming, health care, and nutrition.
  • Hoof quality: High-quality feet with no growth or fever rings are essential.

Sale preparation is an ongoing process for young horses. If they are weaned properly and maintained at a body condition score of about 5, there will not be as much pressure for a sudden feeding change when they are being prepared for a sale. Solid sale preparation takes a minimum of 90 to 120 days of exercise, proper nutrition, and grooming.

Having a quality feed program is essential to have horses looking and feeling their best. Here are a few keys to developing the optimum program:

  • Have good quality forage or pasture available to help develop body condition.
  • A grain product should contain added vegetable oil to provide a safe energy source as well as to help hair coat. Depending on the forage, a 12% or 14% protein feed that is fortified with amino acids (lysine, methionine, and threonine) to develop muscle mass should be used. The feed should contain balanced macro- and trace minerals to support bone remodeling and develop bone strength. And the feed should also contain added vitamins A, D, E, and biotin for proper metabolism as well as hair coat and hoof quality.
  • Fresh clean water and free choice salt should also be available.

The feeding rate will depend on current body condition, desired body condition at the time of the sale, and the amount of exercise that the horse will be getting. If the sale is in 90 days and the horse needs to gain 90 pounds, feed him for maintenance, work, and weight gain. Weight gain of one pound per day will require roughly an additional three pounds of feed per day in addition to maintenance and work. But remember: No more than 0.5% body weight in feed should be given at any meal, and meals should be spaced at equal intervals.

Reprinted with permission from The Feed Room, by Nutrena

About the Author

Roy A. Johnson, MS

Roy A. Johnson, MS, is an equine technology manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition. In his role, he is responsibile for the development of horse feeds for U.S. business, including feeds for Nutrena, ACCO, Agway, and private label brands. A former professional horse trainer, farm manager, and horse judging coach, Johnson was an assistant professor in the Agricultural Production Division at the University of Minnesota-Wasecae before joining Cargill. Johnson has also participated in a successful Thoroughbred racing partnership.

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