Reasons for performing study: The main goal of feeding elite 3-day event horses is to deliver nutrients in optimal amounts to allow the horse to maximize its health and performance. However, improper nutritional management and/or physiological stressors related to intense training and competition may increase the risk of nutrition-associated disorders in these horses. An understanding of the nutrition-associated problems contributing to poor performance is critical to the health and welfare of the horse.
Objectives: To characterize the nutrition-associated problems affecting top level 3-day event horses during 2008.
Methods: Contact information for riders competing in the 2 highest levels of 3-day eventing in 2008 was obtained from the United States Eventing Association. A survey containing 10 questions pertaining to participant demographics and nutrition-associated problems experienced by their horses was mailed and e-mailed to the 81 individuals fitting our criteria of living in USA and Canada. Data was collected in April and May 2009.
Results: Twenty-nine of 81 riders completed the survey (35.8%). Respondents rode a total of 45 horses in top level 3-day events in 2008. The top 5 nutrition-associated problems that horses faced at a significantly higher level than the other problems (P<0.0001) were gastric ulcers (42.2%), joint problems (37.7%), decreased appetite (31.1%), weight loss (31.1%) and hyperexcitability (22.2%). There was no significant difference in frequency of problems between home and competition (P = 0.22).
Conclusions: Horses competing at a high level of 3-day eventing in 2008 were at risk of reduced performance given the significant rate of gastric ulcers, decreased appetite and weight loss. Research addressing specific causes of and/or feeding management changes that would reduce the incidence of these problems in these horses is needed to ensure optimal health and performance.