Feeding the Top Athlete, Part I: Fiber With Flair

Feb 13, 2013 - 10:25 AM
Hotmail and Catherine Haddad Staller. The energy level of a dressage horse must peak at 30-45 minutes into a warm-up and be sustained at its highest level for another 10-20 minutes during competition. Photo by Anna Sylvan Jaffe.

Dear Rita,

In a blog last fall I touched briefly on the fact that we need to provide better management for the horses we expect to compete in top sport. I would like to delve into some things I have learned about nutrition in recent years.

Nutrition is an integral part of getting your horse to perform at his best especially over long periods of time through many show seasons. Top riders also face the challenge of finding consistent feeding programs that work on two or more continents, and in varying climates within our own country.

I want to feed my horses with products that are available in my summer base (New Jersey), my winter base (Florida) and on the European tours I intend to do in the future. While there are certain products I want to keep consistent in my horses’ diets, there are others that will always be variable like hay quality. I also have to take into consideration that my horses’ needs change when they travel to shows or change continents and/or hemispheres.

A consistent source of fiber is the most important aspect of feeding any horse because a horse is genetically programmed to survive on a forage diet. Forage-based diets provide high fiber for any horse, and when natural forage (grass) is not available, we have to turn to hay as the forage feed.

A good quality hay as a fiber source is, of course, indispensible. My most agonizing feeding moments occur when I can’t get my hands on a palatable and nutritious supply. Based in Florida this winter, where no local hay is grown and small bales can run between $25-35 for average hay, I was faced with the challenge of importing my own consistent supply. Then a good friend, Marian Nilsen of Healthy Horse Boutique, gave me this tip:


Fibre-Beet is a specially treated beet pulp that is supplemented with alfalfa and oat fiber.

The main ingredient is Speedi-Beet, a beet pulp that is produced in Great Britain and sold in the USA by Emerald Valley Natural Health. You can find both products in the USA here. (Just google a source in Europe.)

I have always been a fan of beet pulp as a fiber source. It is wonderful for putting a bit of weight on the hard keeper and for keeping the digestive tract of any horse healthy. My only concern about feeding it over the years was the time it took to soak (12-24 hours) and its naturally high sugar content. But Speedi-Beet is a product that solves both problems.

Speedi-Beet is comprised solely of sugar beet pulp with no added molasses. The pulp has been subjected to a patented cooking process that reduces soaking time to 15-45 minutes depending on the water temperature. The cooking process also reduces the sugar content, leaving you with a quick-soaking beet pulp, low sugar content and a high proportion of soluble fiber.

The fiber in Speedi-Beet is more easily digested than that found in forage like hay. This makes Speedi Beet a great source of slow release energy—perfect for competition horses! And it is a great source of fiber for horses requiring a low sugar/carbohydrate diet.

If you find your oat-fed performance horse warming up with full power and energy and then tapering off in his commitment to the work right when you get to the hard stuff, try a slower releasing energy source for more stamina. The energy in oats is released quickly and is not always the best source of energy for a dressage horse that peaks in energy requirement 30-45 minutes into the workout.

Here is the difference between Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet: Fibre Beet is Speedi-Beet with alfalfa and oat fiber added to the recipe to bring the protein level up to 10 percent. It contains 3 percent fat and 22 percent fiber. The total starch is a mere 3 percent and the sugar is only 5 percent. If you are trying to move your horse away from a high carbohydrate diet toward a slower releasing energy diet, this is a great way to do it.

Here is the other financial advantage, Rita. You can replace up to 30 percent of a horse’s hay ration with Fibre-Beet on a daily basis. And, if you ever find yourself in a situation where hay is impossible to come by, Fibre Beet can replace up to 100 percent of your horse’s hay requirement for a short period of time. Nice tip for those who can’t get their hands on good quality hay while traveling the world with their horses! Or for those of us who find shipping good quality hay to Florida a financial nightmare. I have reduced my horse’s hay consumption by almost 50 percent by bedding my horses on straw and feeding Fibre-Beet three times a day.

Feeding Fibre-Beet benefits your horse in multiple ways. It is served wet after soaking the pellets for only 15 minutes in hot water or 45 in cold. Wet food is good for horses, Rita. Grass is 90 percent water. If you take away grass and feed only a dry diet, your horse has to drink a whole lot of water to get his digestive tract to work right. And we all know that we can lead horses to water but…

I can’t tell you how important it is to keep the sport horse hydrated. If you have a feed that he likes that also helps him ingest water, you are already ahead of the game. This is especially important in a hot climate like Florida or when traveling on long trips to shows.

I have used Fibre-Beet since moving to Florida last November. It is a forage feed I will give my horses every day no matter where they are in the world. The slow releasing energy feed with high fiber content, low starch and sugar, and a medium level of protein is not only a great food for sport horses to supplement the hay ration, but it’s also safe to feed horses with laminitis problems and feed sensitivities. It is kind to the hind gut. All of my horses from 4 years to 19 years eat it as an essential forage source.

I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Wellington, Fla.

Training Tip of the Day: Feed your athlete according to his energy/stamina requirements. Forage is the most important part of his diet!


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