Good Eats!—Dine With The Nation’s Top Sport Horses
You are what you eat, right? If that were true, we would’ve thought that these successful sport horses spent the afternoons grazing on blue ribbons, gold medals, and championship titles. We asked the best of the best what they put into their award-winning horses to keep them at the top of their game.
Fresh out of the starting gate of his first four-star event at Rolex Kentucky, Blackfoot Mystery is at the top of three-day eventing with rider Boyd Martin. Like any athlete in a sport that requires extreme stamina, the 12-year-old Thoroughbred eats as much as, well, a horse. “I like to think of their feed sort of like rocket fuel that you have to put into a jet before flight,” says Martin. “Because Big Red does so much work, he has four meals a day—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late night feed. He is in such hard work it is difficult just keeping weight on him because he is training so hard.”
The majority of Red’s diet is made up of forage, and Martin attributes that to the horse’s wild ancestors. “If you think of horses that are in the wild, they are a grazing animal, and that requires them to be nibbling away all the time.” Because of that, all of Martin’s horses, including Big Red, either have grass in their paddocks or hay readily available 24 hours a day. “In South Carolina we give them a mixture of grass hay and in Pennsylvania we have prime timothy-grass hay and orchard-grass hay.”
A personalized diet was created for the chestnut gelding along with all of Martin’s horses with the help of equine nutritionist Dr. Katie Young, an expert for Martin’s feed sponsor, Purina. Big Red is fed a mix of Strategy, Senior Active, and SuperSport—a highprotein amino acid pellet that Martin describes as, “a pellet that basically helps build the topline and maintain energy, speed, and endurance for being athletic for long periods of time.” As for when the competition season is over, Red’s grain is decreased to accommodate his lighter workload. “He will still get grain, though not nearly as much, and only two or three times a day.”
Additional supplements packaged in SmartPaks help to keep Big Red in competition shape and save Martin some time. “In the past, I used to buy a tub of electrolytes and a tub of biotin for their feet and it would take three hours just to mix it all up,” he says. Now, a mixture of supplements formulated to maintain healthy joints, provide gastric support, balance electrolytes, and promote muscle development is added to Red’s grain twice a day.
On top of a healthy diet of forage and grain, Big Red gets spoiled with his favorite treats at a special time of day. “Whenever you go to put him in a field, when you take his headcollar off, if you don’t give him a treat he will tear off bucking and kicking,” laughs Martin. “So as you are releasing him, you have to feed him a horse cookie and if you forget it even one day, he gets very wound up!”
Once a successful show horse, Pale Face Dunnit and Craig Schmersal could be found in the reining arena kicking up dust and taking home championships. Now, the palomino stallion with over $72,000 in lifetime earnings is enjoying retirement as a breeding stallion. “We found that he was such a popular stallion that we decided to retire him early and have him go straight to the breeding farm,” says owner Ginger Schersmal of Schmersal Reining Horses. “He has been averaging around 120 mares a year and it is hard to keep one in show training when he is that busy in the breeding barn.”
For a busy boy, Gold Digger eats a pretty straightforward diet—hay and grain with a slight change of calorie intake. The Schmersals are partnered with Purina, so the stallion gets a mixture of Strategy and their SuperSport amino acid supplement twice a day. “SuperSport is a main staple to Craig’s training program. We have found it to be really good for reducing injuries, keeping a healthy weight, a really good show coat on them,” explains Schmersal. “It made such a noticeable result in our tendon issues.” Of course, he also gets both alfalfa and grass hay. “We like to feed them mixed, that way they can pick at one or the other all day long.”
When he isn’t in breeding season, the only changes the Schmersal’s make to Gold Digger’s diet is calorie intake. “We don’t change his feed program other than cutting back his calorie intake. When it is breeding season, he is busy and exerting himself quite a bit so we tend to feed him more calories during that time, but when he is not exerting so much effort he gets fed less calories.”
When it comes to treats, Schmersal relates the stallion to a vacuum. “He is kind of a Hoover,” she laughs. “He gets spoiled a lot and I know he gets carrots every day at Silver Spurs Equine, LLC where he stands. He loves peppermints—that is probably his favorite thing—and cookies. He really isn’t picky.”
As one of Chester Weber’s 2016 USEF National Four-in-Hand Championship winning team, Ultra worked alongside three other horses to bring home Weber’s record 13th win. “Ultra is often in the leader position, and is one of the most dependable horses in the team,” says Live Oak Combined Driving groom, Naomi Oliver.
All of the horses at Live Oak, including Ultra, are fed a foragebased diet with a low-starch grain and hay fed four times a day. “It is really important that if they’re not out in the pasture grazing they get something to munch on in the stall, so we try to make sure that there is always hay available for them. They work hard enough that they can afford to have that,” says Oliver. Like many other horse owners, Oliver attributes the need for constant forage on the horse’s gastro-intestinal tract. “It is really important to have something in their stomach and hindgut all the time, it encourages a healthy digestive tract since they are designed to eat constantly.”
For grain, Ultra gets fed three times a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—to spread out their calorie intake and, again, to maintain a healthy digestive system. Weber and his team are sponsored by Nutrena, so the horses are fed a beet pulp-based grain called ProForce Fiber. “It is a high-fiber, high-fat feed with beet pulp, so it provides a safe, low-starch, slow-burning source of energy. The extra fiber from the beet pulp is helpful in efficiently moving food particles through the hindgut and conserving water and electrolytes,” adds Oliver. “It is also beneficial in preventing any metabolic problems.” In addition to grain, each horse gets supplements to cater to their more specific needs.
One system Weber utilizes in maintaining his horse’s health is weighing the horses regularly to keep track of any changes in weight in relation to their workload and calorie intake. “We use a scale to weigh them because it is very subjective to just look at a horse and say ‘Oh, I think he gained a few pounds this month,’” explains Oliver. “We keep very specific track of their weight—we weigh them every two weeks. That way we can see exactly how much their weight is fluctuating.” In addition to stepping on the scale, the horses’ body condition score analysis and weekly vet examinations are factored in as well. “After all of that, then we decide based on how they look and what their work load is whether or not we need to increase or decrease grain.”
Ultra’s favorite treats? “Carrots, apples, and every once in a while he really likes a banana,” laughs Oliver.
This Dutch Warmblood and his owner need no introduction. Verdades and his owner and rider, Laura Graves, have skyrocketed to the top of dressage in what seems like overnight thanks to years of Graves’ hardwork. “I’ve had Diddy since he was six months old, so I pretty much know everything there is to know about him and that has been helpful in making decisions along the way,” says Graves. Of course, those decisions include Diddy’s daily nutrition.
“I’m a big believer in free choice hay,” says Graves, and the only hay you will find in the barn is western timothy thanks to a certain horse’s allergies. “Diddy is actually allergic to alfalfa and we found that the timothy was a great fit for all of the horses.” Slow-feed hay bags are filled and kept full for all of the horses in Grave’s barn along with turnout with “as much grass as they can eat.”
Graves’ simple outlook on nutrition also applies to feeding grain. “We feed a very, very small amount of processed grain,” she explains. “It keeps the horses really healthy, their digestion very normal, and their behavior in the stable a lot less irritable.” And when it comes to days off, the amount of grain gets even smaller—often by half. “If the horse is not competing, in intense training, or simply not in a lot of work we decrease their grain,” says Graves. “I do sometimes feed a lower-starch grain with a higher-fat grain so it is easy to control portion sizes when we need to cut or increase.”
Living in Florida may be sunny and beautiful, but it is also hot, so Diddy’s main supplement is a daily electrolyte and Graves doubles it when they are competing. He also gets a probiotic. “I use EquiOtic, which is cultured from the type of bacteria that horses produce themselves, and we found that to be super effective,” says Graves. “Anything else he gets is medical grade as far as joints and such.”
When asked about Diddy’s favorite treats, Graves just laughed. “This horse will eat pretty much anything! If you shredded up cardboard he would probably eat a bowl full of it. He is not a picky eater at all.” Graves added that she saves his absolute favorite treats—Mrs. Pastures Cookies—for special occasions, like showing and flying, and normally gives him more natural treats (he loves bananas) for everyday rides. She even has a trick for those who have horses that aren’t a fan of the yellow fruit. “The thing you have to do if your horse doesn’t like bananas is feed another horse in front of them and they get super jealous. Then they suddenly want to eat bananas.”