In a survey of leading three-day event riders, researchers found that the majority of riders fed their horses based on research-driven recommendations, but the number of supplements used per horse did raise some eyebrows.

During the Jersey Fresh 2006 and 2007 Three-Day Events, researchers interviewed 69 riders, asking such questions as where they sought out nutritional information, feeding times, type of pasture, type and amount of hay, and concentrate and supplement use. Horse characteristics (e.g., breed, age, gender, competition experience) were also recorded.

"Studies like these are important because they increase our knowledge of how to improve the health and performance of our elite equine athletes," said co-author Amy Burk, PhD, from the University of Maryland. "We are very appreciative to the riders and competition staff for supporting our efforts."

The riders who participated in this survey reported conferring with their trainers and feed dealers for nutritional support and advice.

According to Carey Williams, PhD, from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and the Equine Science Center, also an author on the study, "Knowing where horse owners obtain nutritional information is useful when planning outreach efforts because it helps define the audience that should be targeted."

This study also revealed that the majority of feeding management practices followed research-driven recommendations (for example, as outlined in the 2007 edition of the National Research Council's book, "Nutrient Requirements of Horses.") A majority of the horses included in the study had their daily rations divided and fed two or more times a day and most horses met the minimum forage intake recommendations of 1.0% of their body weight per day.

"Likely the biggest concern identified from this study is that these horses are supplemented with an average of four different oral products including electrolytes, plain salt, and oral joint health supplements," relayed Williams. "This practice raises questions regarding over-supplementation and the potential for nutrient interactions in these athletes."

For example, daily electrolyte supplementation could create nutrient excesses that might ultimately negatively impact the horse, and nutrient excesses lost in the urine and feces will negatively impact the environment.

The study by Burk and Williams, "Feeding management practices and supplement use in top-level event horses," was published in the journal Comparative Exercise Physiology in late 2008.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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