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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • body mass;
  • diet;
  • exercise

Summary

The horse evolved to survive on rations high in forage. Many performance horses are fed rations containing reduced levels of forage, with a corresponding increase in concentrate supply. Such reductions in forage intake are widely established to be associated with a corresponding number of physiological and psychological adaptations. Therefore, the influence of forage intake on bodyweight (bwt) and performance was investigated. Four Thoroughbred-type geldings in light to moderate work received 4 diets (100% forage [100H]; 80% forage:20% concentrate [80H]; 60% forage:40% concentrate [60H] and 50% forage:50% concentrate [50H]) in a 4 times 4 Latin-square design. A submaximal standardised exercise test (SET) was performed for each diet. Rate of passage, bwt and water intakes were measured throughout the trial and maximum, recovery heart rates and postexercise rectal temperatures recorded for each SET. Mean ± s.e. bwt was significantly (P<0.001) higher for the 100H compared to the 50H ration (556.89 and 546.28 kg, respectively). Rate of passage of digesta was significantly (P<0.01) slower for the 100H compared to the 50H ration. Water intakes and SET maximum and 1 min recovery heart rates were significantly (P<0.05) higher (mean ± s.e. 44.72 and 39.07 ***l/day, 186 and 165 beats/min, and 105 and 96 beats/min, respectively) for 100H compared to the 50H diet. Post-SET rectal temperatures tended to increase with increasing forage intakes, although these effects were not significant (mean 39.85 and 38.65°C for the 100H and 50H diets, respectively). In conclusion, forage intake has significant effects on equine bwt and submaximal performance and a compromise needs to be made between the potential detrimental effects of high forage intake on performance and the potential detrimental effects of low forage intake on equine welfare.