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Caring for Your Performance Horse

Training a horse to perform at high levels takes a lot of time, effort, patience and resources. Regardless of the discipline, from racing to reining, endurance to eventing and hunters/jumpers to polo ponies, all horses actively in a training regiment for competition are considered to be performance horses.

A performance horse is not defined by the amount of love its owner has for him, but rather by the amount of energy they exert when performing in their chosen discipline. Typically, performance horses are those who are trained or ridden more days than not in a given week.

Performance horses are athletes and it's important that we treat them as such. As athletes, it's essential that performance horses are in a structured management program. This program should include proper nutrition, exercise, hoof care, leg care, dentistry, grooming and overall wellness. However, remember horse maintenance is not a one size fits all approach, each horse has different needs and must be treated as an individual.

Fuel to Perform

Much like race cars, performance horses at the top of their game need the correct fuel to deliver their best results. In order to perform to their highest ability it's critical that horses receive the correct amount of energy in their feed. The amount of energy needed is dictated by the amount of energy expended in a given day. Horses performing at high levels expend higher volumes of energy than those at a maintenance level, such as a grazing horse, therefore it's essential that their energy be provided as part of their daily diet. Energy can be found in both carbohydrates, starches, as well as in fat.

Performance horses should maximize caloric intake and muscle function with high fat, controlled starch diets and high levels of antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C and selenium) to maintain active muscle tissue and immune system function. You can increase nutrient utilization in your horse with digestive enzymes, yeast culture, organic trace minerals, probiotics and lecithin compounds. These added antioxidants and nutrients can be found in Southern States performance horse feeds. In addition to feeding a high quality grain mix, good quality hay should be fed to maximize caloric intake.In addition to feeding a high quality grain mix, good quality hay should be fed to maximize caloric intake.

Additional electrolytes, should be given to hard-working, heavily sweating horses. Depletion of electrolytes in the horse interferes with muscle contractions and can cause fatigue or poor performance. If enough sweat is produced it could also lead to tying up or impaction colic. To combat this, feed two to four ounces daily, of a salt-based electrolyte. Electrolytes can be mixed into both water and feed.

Recommended Products for your Performance Horse include: Legends Performance (textured and pelleted formulas), Legends Racing, Southern States Triple 10, Legends Show & Pleasure (textured and pelleted formulas), Triple Crown 14% Performance Formula, Triple Crown Complete Formula, Triple Crown Omega Max, Legends Pelleted Rice Bran and Legends Omega Plus.

Nutritional needs vary among performance horses, even horses that are competing in the same discipline. Don't hesitate to contact your local Southern States Equine Feed Sales and Technical Representative to help you determine the correct feed for your need.

Working on Your Fitness

In order for an athlete to perform at the highest levels he or she must continually maintain a level of fitness and work on enhancing his or her skills. Equine athletes are no different than their human counterparts when it comes to needing a consistent exercise and conditioning program. If you were planning to run a 10K or marathon this weekend you wouldn't sit on the couch all week without stretching your legs on a few practice runs, the same is true with horses. Horses can't be left to "just be a horse" during the week and then expected to perform at high levels on the weekend at their competitions.

Make sure you set up a training schedule for your horse. Training involves a combination of physical conditioning and task-specific schooling (pole bending, jumping, flatwork patterns, etc.). While consistency is key, remember to schedule one or two "off" days a week to give your horse time to decompress and his or her muscles to recover.

Unfortunately, equine athletes like human athletes sometimes get hurt. Making sure that your horse is in a regular exercise program is one way to prevent injury. Try to have your horse physically fit for the work you want it to perform. If you aren't sure how to assess this, your local veterinarian or trainer can assist you.

No Hoof, No Horse

We have all heard our farrier say, "no hoof, no horse." This saying rings particularly true with performance horses as hooves have a direct impact in how our equine athletes perform. Your farrier is one of the most important members of your horse's team. While you should leave the shoeing and shaping of your horse's hooves to him or her, there are some things you can do to make sure your horse has the best hooves possible year round.

Make sure you stay on top of any special shoeing situations your horse may have, be it a quarter crack or just bad feet. Remember, horses don't have calendars, they don't know they are supposed to be shod every four to six weeks. It's your job to know when the next shoeing should occur. anWhen working with performance horses on heavy competition schedules, shoeings can often come more frequently as their shoes wear down from the various competition footings. Be aware of how your horse's feet look.

There are several products you can purchase to assist in the upkeep of your horse's feet. If your horse is experiencing dry brittle hooves or developing cracks, apply hoof conditioner to both the hoof wall and the sole. While all of Southern States performance horse feeds contain biotin, a vitamin known to promote stronger hooves and feet, sometimes additional biotin supplementation is needed. Feeding a biotin supplement will not only help horses with problem feed, but it will also make their coats shine, another sign of a healthy horse.

Getting a Leg Up on the Competition

Equine athletes, like human athletes work hard to perform their jobs. Whether your horse is an eventer, jumper, race horse or does barrel racing, a lot of stress is placed on his legs. This stress can cause muscle soreness and inflammation in the legs. To help combat these issues you should pay special attention to your horse's legs after strenuous work. Two ways to help reduce inflammation and prevent injury are through poulticing and icing your horse's legs.

Poultice can be either Epsom salt or clay based. When applied right after tendons, joints and ligaments are stressed poultice can reduce heat and aid in the healing process. Poultice is used as both a pain reliever and as a first response to early muscle injuries.

To properly poultice your horse, cut pieces of brown paper that are the big enough to wrap once around your horse's lower leg. Place the paper in a bucket of water until it gets soaked. You then wet your horse's leg with either a rag or your hand. Now take the poultice and liberally apply to the lower leg, paying special attention to any areas that may be swollen. The wet paper can now be applied, this will help the poultice stay moist. Finally place a shipping wrap over the paper. For maximum benefits, leave the leg wrapped overnight.

Another option to help reduce inflammation is icing your horse's legs. This is a good option if your horse has sensitive skin and gets irritated by poultice. While it is one of the older therapies for stressed tendons, icing is still one of the best ways to treat your horse after a hard work out. In some disciplines icing is standard operating procedure following competition. There are many ice boot options you can look into to help deliver effective ice therapy for your horse.

Regardless of which leg therapy you choose the most critical element is timing. The quicker you can apply the poultice, liniment or ice, the less amount of time the horse's legs will be stressed and less possibility for damage. The better you take care of your horse's legs, the longer they can carry you to more competitions.

Whole Body Solutions

Many owners of performance horses turn to alternative therapeutic treatments when caring for their athlete. Amongst the most common are acupuncture, chiropractic treatment and massage therapy. Work with your local veterinarian to find an alternative therapy specialist in your area.

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice which helps ones "Qi" or energy flow be balanced and in turn allow the body to heal itself faster. Acupuncture is also known to reduce fatigue, stress induced damage and encourage the horse to be more resistant to disease. An acupuncture therapist works by placing sterile needles in certain pressure points throughout the horse's body related to a horse's health and performance history. In addition to sterile needles being inserted for a short period of time, some acupuncturists inject a small amount of B12 to stimulate the pressure point for longer periods of time. While there is some controversy over the results of acupuncture, many performance horse owners swear their horses have positive results.

Chiropractic therapy can benefit performance horses that are experiencing body stiffness, joint stiffness, back or neck pain or poor performance that is not associated with lameness. Today many veterinarians have added chiropractic work to their practice. Chiropractors start by learning what issues your horse is currently having. They then palpate the horse's body and limbs with their fingertips. The goal is to look for any areas that lack mobility as well as any areas that have heat or knots in the muscle. Once the chiropractor finds any areas that have issues, he or she performs an adjustment that helps restore normal motion to the affected area. These adjustments will bring more flexibility and movement to your horse.

Massage therapy also helps alleviate muscle fatigue and tension in your horse's body. The more relaxed your horse is the less risk of pulling or tearing muscles and risking injury. Just like humans if a horse has a certain area that is tense he or she will compensate with other muscles. Massage therapy can help improve your horse's inflammation in muscles and joints and allow him to move more freely. Following treatment you should notice results in both flexibility of your horse and overall temperament. A healthy horse is a happy horse.

Look like a Winner

Not only do you want your horse to perform like a winner, but you want him to look like one too. Therefore it's important to not only have an exercise and preventative maintenance schedule for your horse, but also to build in daily grooming sessions. A horse's coat is the first indication of the animal's health and often is the first impression a horse makes when he or she steps into the competition arena. Grooming not only helps your horse look his best, but it also gives you an opportunity to check out their body condition and check for cuts, punctures, etc. Taking the time to groom not only helps your horse, but it helps you build a stronger relationship on the ground.

Have you been spending a lot of time grooming and your horse's coat still doesn't look its best? Try adding Legends Pelleted Rice Bran to your horse's diet to put a shine on their coat. Rice Bran contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which improve hair, skin and hoof condition.

Get Out There and Perform

Having a performance horse at the top of their game is a team effort. Make sure you have a farrier, veterinarian and other care providers that you trust to assist you in managing the needs of your horse year round. By following the tips mentioned above you will give your horse the best opportunity to give their best performance. Best of luck in your equine endeavors!

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