Feeding the Polo Pony
Polo is a unique and challenging sport for horse and rider. Getting the horse’s diet right is crucial for keeping the horse healthy which allows them to perform at their best.
The Importance of Fibre for Health & Performance
Horses have evolved to function best on a high fibre diet. Not all fibre is the same though and alfalfa, grass and sugar beet are examples of highly digestible sources of fibre which help to keep “dead weight” in the gut to a minimum, making them far better for polo ponies than straw based chaffs.
Alfalfa Has Other Benefits Too:
- Alfalfa is a natural buffer to acidity in the gut, helping to counteract the negative effects of feeding cereals – this is thought to be due to abundant levels of naturally occurring calcium and amino acids
- Alfalfa provides a good level of slow release energy – Dengie Alfa-A Original is comparable to a cool mix in terms of its energy content and Dengie Alfa-A Oil is the same as a conditioning or competition mix at 12.5MJ/kg DE
- Relative to other forages, alfalfa is a good source of essential amino acids – the building blocks of protein that have to be supplied in the diet. This helps to build muscle tone and topline
Hydration and Performance
Sugar beet isn’t always the most practical feed to use on yards with large numbers of horses as it requires soaking prior to feeding. However, it does have benefits to the horse that may outweigh the inconvenience. The water that is consumed with soaked sugar beet can be a useful way of helping to hydrate the horse. The added benefit is that sugar beet is readily broken down in the gut releasing the water for absorption. Indigestible fibres such as grass hay can actually bind water in the gut and only release it slowly.
Sports horses lose electrolytes alongside water through their sweat and so both need to be replaced to avoid poor performance, early onset of fatigue and muscle problems. If your ponies won’t drink electrolytes in their water, they can be added to a wet, slushy feed to promote absorption. Mixing them with Dengie Alfa-Beet, which has a quick soak time of 15 minutes in hot water, is a great way of encouraging them to consume the electrolytes and getting the benefit of some sugar beet in the ration.
Feeding Ponies Prone to Muscle Problems
The nature of high performance exercise means that there is an increased risk of muscle problems such as ERS (previously known as Tying-Up or Azoturia). The following tips can help to reduce the risk:
- A risk factor for ERS is a high starch diet and so reducing or removing cereals from the ration is advisable. Fibre and oil, such as in Alfa-A Oil, are great ways to provide safe energy and the oil also helps to promote improved stamina, which is particularly useful for ponies playing and training hard regularly
- Use an electrolyte supplement routinely or the days before and after heavy work
- Ensure the diet is balanced – a lack of trace minerals, particularly selenium, may compromise anti-oxidant function, resulting in further muscle damage
Feeding Ponies with Gastric Ulcers
High starch, low fibre diets, the “stress” of travelling and competing and exercising at speed all increase the risk of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS). Symptoms include lack of appetite, recurrent colic and poor performance.
The following tips can help to reduce the risk of ulcers:
- Feeding a handful of chopped fibre such as Dengie Alfa-A Oil or Healthy Tummy, prior to exercise helps to stop acid splashing around in the stomach
- Using a feed containing alfalfa such as the Dengie Alfa-A range, helps to provide natural buffering to acidity in the stomach
- Reducing the amount of cereals fed should help to avoid increasing the level of acidity in the stomach
- Dengie Healthy Tummy is based on alfalfa and also includes ADM Protexin In-Feed Formula which contains yeast, prebiotics and special sources of calcium and magnesium that all promote gut health. A unique blend of herbs is included to promote increased palatability
Richard Blake-Thomas has been playing polo since he was 8 years old and has represented Wales for 5 years, won the Molina Trophy in USA twice and played in European championships amongst other notable achievements in his career. Richard now focuses on breeding and hiring his horses to foreign professionals playing in the UK and Northern Europe, and feeds Dengie Alfa-A Oil to all of his ponies.
“I started feeding Alfa-A Oil 3 years ago and found that it really made a difference to my ponies’ condition. Their topline improved and it helped them to bounce back from hard games much more quickly. I also feed it to my breeding ponies as it is a great source of calcium”.