Written by: Louise Calderwood | September 3, 2020
In some parts of the country, the air is starting to turn crisp and has taken on a decidedly fall-like feel – not weather we normally associate with the Kentucky Derby. But in 2020, we have learned to accept the good things that come our way, no matter how strange the timing. For the trainers and owners of horses heading to the post at Churchill Downs this Saturday, Sept. 5, many things have changed over the last five months, but the training regimens and diets provided to the horses preparing for the Run for the Roses still include the carefully crafted routines and ingredients essential to the development of equine superstars.
I asked several American Feed Industry Association equine members to share their thoughts on what is needed to feed an elite athlete weighing over a thousand pounds and their responses covered every aspect of equine nutrition.
Tom Kauffman of Kauffman’s Feeds mentioned the extra care and training his employees receive to make sure Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances are not a part of any supplement or premix fed to a competitive horse. “Even minute quantities can potentially cause a positive test for performance enhancing drugs,” Kauffman said. For example, the cross contamination of cocoa bean hulls into an equine feed could result in a positive drug test for caffeine following a competition.
Pierre Frumholz of Provita Supplements explained that an equine athlete, like any other athlete, is supported by a team of experts, often including a trainer, veterinarian, chiropractor, and of course, a nutritionist. “All nutrients have a key role to play in maintaining the integrity of the overall body. Each horse will react differently to the type and frequency of different nutrients,” he said. A sound equine nutritionist not only knows the intricate interaction between nutrients, but also how they will impact the horse’s digestive tract and microbiome.
In his remarks, Roy Johnson of Cargill Animal Health and Nutrition explained that equine athletes often have relatively short periods of very high-energy expenditure in an activity that can create micro-tears in muscle and soft tissue, stress bone structures and challenge the body with oxidative stress. Johnson explained that a balanced nutrition program is essential for the equine athlete to “compete hard, then bounce back and do it again, perhaps at an even higher level.” He further explained that top performance from an equine athlete requires a good topline, which refers to the development of the three major muscles along the horse’s back. Johnson said, “a good topline takes work and good amino acid nutrition.”
Anthony Koch of Hallway Feeds compared the caloric needs of an equine athlete to a human athlete. Koch shared that a racehorse may need more than 32,000 calories of digestible energy per day. By comparison, Michael Phelps supposedly ate 12,000 calories per day during his 2008 Olympic run and the average male human is supposed to eat approximately 2,500 calories per day, according to U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Koch said, “Different energy sources feed different types of muscles and offer different types of performance. Knowing the outcome you desire is important in order to properly feed your equine athlete.”
Jonathon Lucas of Alfagreen Supreme confirmed that elite equine athletes are fed the best possible diets “consisting of the most nutritious, safe and beneficial ingredients available.” High quality forages form the basis for most equine diets and play an essential role in maintaining digestive health. Lucas said fresh, high quality forages are required “to fuel these elite athletes down the stretch.”
As we gather to watch the excitement and thrill of the Kentucky Derby this weekend, know that AFIA’s members are putting the same science and commitment into manufacturing feeds for all types of horses, from the sleek Thoroughbred thundering down the stretch, to a beloved four-legged retiree enjoying quiet rides.