A few months ago I met equine nutritionist Nina Hammarstrom, founder and owner of Scandinavian Equine Nutrition AB and hastfoder.se, and she worked out an individual feeding scheme for each of my horses. Here is her expert’s views on sporthorses nutrition:
1. How did you become an equine nutritionist?
My interest in equine nutrition began with knowledge in sports nutrition for athletes when I studied to become a personal fitness trainer in Sydney in 2005, alongside my master studies in economics at Sydney University. I realized then what incredible impact the diet has on performance and since I had been riding at international level in Europe before, I could apply a lot of my new knowledge in nutrition for athletes onto performance horses. As I dug deeper into the equine nutrition jungle, I discovered Australia is actually one of the leading countries when it comes to research and development of horse feed and supplements so I decided to get seriously involved!
2. What’s in your opinion most important in a sport horses’ diet in general?
This is a very good question, but hard to give one answer to!! First of all I’d like to enhance the importance of good quality hay or roughage in every horses diet!! When it comes to hard feed I have to say that the most important thing is to keep the starch levels down and the oil levels up in the horses feed, but it is just as important to have a well balanced amino acid profile, i.e. that the protein in the performance horses diet is well balanced. So essentially I have to say that the two most important things are low starch and well balanced essential amino acid profile. However, there are so many things that I’d want to discuss here, I could go on forever….
3. What are the most common ‘mistakes’ in sport horse nutrition?
This closely relates to the question above; a very common mistake is to feed too much starch or unbalanced protein, but that makes a very boring answer. I would say that one of the most common mistakes is to give too much of supplements or feeds that the horses might not need or might not be able to utilize efficiently. With an optimized diet, the horse don’t need to deal with all the excess nutritions that they are given but that they can’t utilize due to for example lack in essentials or what we call carriers. Does that make sense? Most performance horses are suffering from side effects of starchy feeds or feeds that are not well balanced in protein, vitamins and/or minerals. Those side effects might be ulcers, colics, skin problems, allergies, tying up, muscular stiffness, extended recovery time, lactic acid levels, behavioral abnormalities, poor hoof quality etc, etc. What I’m trying to clarify is that a common mistake is to just add on supplements, without actually knowing if they are in fact needed.
4. When putting together a horse’s diet what’s your main focus?
First I look at the horse, feel the horse; check the muscular and skin status and I ask for as much information from the owner or rider as I can get; is the horse hot/strong/lazy to ride for example? How is the horse behaving in the stable, in work, when traveling etc? I always ask about what the diet is right now, what the general health status is (i.e. history of injuries/surgery/recurring lameness), how the horse recovers after performance, when the teeth were checked last, how the horse behaves with the hay/roughage, what the feeding routines are – as much information about the horse I can possibly get when it comes to behavior. I also ask if there are certain problems that the rider/owner experiences; if the horse has had colic, founder, tying up or other obvious problems, then the job is quite easy, if there are more diffuse problems like stiffness, problems with bad hooves etc, I might need to consider other factors. It is quite hard to know always, but believe it or not, the behavioral problems are in many cases related to diet! I always focus on the well-being of the horse, horses these days are so talented that the performance comes naturally once the horses gut is in balance! This doesn’t mean every problem is solved by changing the diet of course, but this sport is all about marginal gains and the diet plays a big role.
5. Do you believe in supplements and if yes which ones make sense?
Generally I don’t think it’s a great idea to give supplements, especially not if you don’t really know why you give them, but it just “feels better” to give something extra…..(very common). But for sure there are great supplements on the market that include nutrients that can’t be added in the feed! Some horses might need supplements through different stages in training and build up periods or some horses might need more of certain nutrients that you have to add in supplements due to metabolism etc. The trick is to know what you are doing, what the horse needs, when and how you should feed it. I guess that’s where I come into play 🙂
6. As last question I know that you are working with many great personalities in sport (not only in dressage) do you want to share one or some of your ‘success-stories’?
I have helped so many different horses through the years, race horses in Australia with chin problems that have been amazingly successful and won millions, show jumpers at Olympic level, Icelandic horses with severe skin allergies, neglected and abused horses that have been left without care and found in awful shape and everything in between. It is very hard to mention one or a few. The most rewarding thing in this business is when I can solve a problem that a horse has had for a long time, wether it is behavorial or what ever, and then the horse finally feels good and can work again. There is nothing like that feeling.