Feeding the Discipline: Show Horses

The show horse is required to have excellent conformation, gait, athleticism, concentration and obedience. The appearance of the show horse needs to be impeccable, so nutritional factors affecting coat, skin, mane and tail, hoof and body condition are extremely important. The type of work required from a show horse is similar to that of a dressage horse.  The level of concentration and obedience required by the show horse is extremely high. The distractions at a show whether it is a local show or a Royal Exhibition are numerous, from loud music to other horses and carnival rides to name a few. Feeding to achieve all of these aims can be difficult, too much energy and the control and concentration may be lost and too little energy and the horse may lack body condition along with the energy and impulsion required in the show ring. Added to this, each horse needs to be treated as an individual and other consideration such as temperament need to be taken into account.


The basis of any horse’s diet should be good quality fibre in the form of hay or pasture. At least 50% of the show horse’s diet should be forage even when competing at the highest level. Show horses are often stabled for multiple days without access to pasture or turnout when competing at shows; this can be very disruptive to the digestive tract. Fibre is essential for the maintenance of a healthy gut. It reduces the incidence of stereotypic behaviour, as well as the likelihood of gastric ulcers and colic, along with helping maintain appetite and hydration. Highly digestible fibre sources such as the Equi-nize Beet are used in the Robanks feeds, they provide slow release energy that will not elicit an excitable behaviour in your show horse.

When it comes to choosing a concentrate feed remember to take into account your horse’s workload, temperament, age and condition. For young horses just starting out or for mature horses in light work a low energy, high fibre feed should provide adequate energy levels. Feeds with low cereal grain content are ideal as these should be low in starch level to help avoid excitable behaviours.  For horses in harder work but that have a tendency to be excitable a higher energy feed with a high fibre and fat content can help to provide the necessary levels of energy without the behaviour sometimes associated with traditional cereal based feeds.


For the calm (maybe lazy) horse a feed containing some fast release energy sources such as cereal grains may be helpful to provide some instant energy for short periods of intense work. Care should be taken however, that meals are not too large, as this can lead to undigested sugar and starch entering the hindgut, which can cause serious consequences such as colic and laminitis. Never feed more than 2kg of concentrate feed per meal. It is also very important to make sure the grains are processed in a way that makes them more available to the horse for digestion

If your horse loses weight easily, most of his additional concentrate feed should be in the form of increased fat & highly digestible fibers. Fats and oils are commonly used in horse feeds to increase the calorie content of the feed or to replace the calories supplied by carbohydrates.  Fat supplementation has many benefits including, providing calories for weight gain and providing essential fatty acids to improve skin and coat condition.  Feeding fat has also been reported to decrease excitability in nervous horses. Feeding too much fat does not cause colic or laminitis in horses.  Performance horses can easily be adapted so they can be fed up to 2 cups of vegetable oil per day (500 kg horse).  Feeding too much fat without properly adaptation can cause diarrhea until the horses digestive system becomes accustom to the dietary fat. Adding vegetable oil or a grain concentrate with a high fat content (Robank Pro-Gold) will safely increase the fat content of the diet. Remember that weight gain will not happen overnight, it is reasonable to safely expect a mature horse to gain 18-20 kg in about 60 days when fed adequate additional calories.


Very often laid-back horses tend to be good doers that are prone to gaining weight easily. If your horse keeps weight on well, then any additional energy will be converted to extra fat. In this situation, your horse needs a low intake feed that is moderate to low fat but still made up of highly digestible fibre sources— look for feeds which are formulated to be fed at low levels e.g. Robank Signature Balancer. Regular weight taping and condition scoring will allow you to pick up on any changes in your horse’s weight and condition. As a guide you should be able to feel your horse’s ribs easily but not be able to see them. An ideal condition score is a 5 or 6 (on a scale of 1 to 9).


Like all horses show horses need vitamins and minerals to maintain health and performance.  Not all minerals are the same however and in there inorganic state they are not very bio-available to the horse. A mineral’s bioavailability is the proportion of the mineral that, when ingested, actually gets absorbed by the body. The remaining amount is not absorbed and is removed as waste. Unfortunately most minerals in their natural or salt state are not easily absorbed and are therefore not very “bioavailable”. The movement of most minerals across the intestinal mucosa requires chelation. A chelated mineral that can be utilized by the body is one that has been bonded to two or more amino acids. A mineral in this “chelated state” allows easy passage through the intestinal wall into the blood resulting in increased metabolism of that mineral.   In other words, when this mineral (e.g. zinc) is bound to an amino acid the combined particle (mineral plus amino acid) is perceived as food by the body, whereas the mineral itself, is not food.  Your horses intestines are designed to allow food to pass through, but not raw (unbound) minerals. Robank utilizes high quality chelated minerals in all of its feeds.

With the increased demands on show horses, it is important to feed the right balance of forage along with concentrate feeds. These feeds should be fortified with vitamins and minerals to meet the extra demands imposed by exercise and stress.  Remember that horses are individuals and vary greatly in their requirements for energy. Some horses become over weight when fed according to the guidelines while others lose weight. Therefore, monitor each individual horse’s condition constantly and feed each one accordingly. Working with a nutritionist is recommended to make sure the horse is provided with exactly the right nutrients to obtain the best performance possible.