What do you feed your Prelim+ horses?

I listened to a “Nutrition for Event Horses” webinar hosted by our local eventing association last night. The nutritionist said that most upper level event horses get enough protein, vitamins, and minerals but are lacking in energy for the required anaerobic work. I feed a low starch feed (Excel Equine’s Animate) to my Prelim Thoroughbred and free choice Orchard/Alfalfa. He looks great and seems fit but he does sometimes lack “oomph” on the last day so I’m wondering if I should switch away from a low starch grain. Racehorses get sweet feed for a reason…

What do you feed your upper level horses?

My old long format/Advanced horse got senior feed, beat pulp and hay. Never had an issue with energy. How is your conditioning work program? Does that need to be improved?

Also, how does this “nutritionist” know they are not getting the necessary nutrients for anaerobic work? Are they company research scientists? A person from the local extension? What is their justification for that claim?


18yo Thoroughbred gelding running Prelim and occasionally Intermediate. He eats Seminole Dynasport, orchard/alfalfa hay, an additional flake of straight alfalfa at meal times, and is turned out on grass. It takes a lot of calories to keep weight on him at this level!

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At the UL there is some truth in that horses won’t get enough caloric intake for XC day from hay alone, but I don’t think this is really a concern for functionally/metabolically healthy horses below Intermediate or Advanced.

They (UL) horses wouldn’t have enough time in the day to source all their caloric/energy needs from forage alone, which is where things like oats and barley and beep came into play as a ready source of VFAs/convertible energy for the horse. Yes, starch has its use for extreme anaerobic work. The old farmer’s adage was hard working horses needed COB – that’s Corn, Oats, Barley. Now, we know tons more about the equine digestive system and their needs and there are better sources of energy out there than COB.

Keep in mind just about no horse works as hard as a racehorse or the old farmer’s plowhorse, not even UL eventers. Don’t let a feed company rep sweet talk you into high-octane feed for your low-octane endeavors. Prelim is Fischer-Price work compared to things like racing and UL eventing.

If you find your horse is lacking oomph after outings, it may be time to investigate why. It’s really anyone’s guess - could be fitness related, could be age related, could be heart related, could be feed related. Get the horse in front of a timer and start to record their respiratory rate and recovery after interval training. If you are certain the lack of oomph isn’t fitness related, it might be time to look at diet or their body - there are simple things you can try, like the addition of beep or oats, to see if the horse improves. Or you can increase what you’re feeding. How much is your horse getting a day?

Most of the Prelim+ horses I’ve cared for were on some sort of high fat (12%+) high protein (10-12+%) concentrate that typically had wheat middlings and beet pulp as its primary ingredient, supplemented by some sort of extruded forage like alfalfa/timothy pellets, a fat or oil supplement, and as much hay in front of them as they could eat. Generally speaking none of them got more than 10lb of grain a day. Most were in the 2-4qt range.

In the summer/fall one of my horses does the athletic/anaerobic equivalent of Prelim between long distance rides, hunts, and paces, if not more – he is fed 2qts Poulin FibreMax / 1qt Alfalfa pellets 2x a day, with 24/7 roundbale access. This gives him plenty of energy and keeps his weight in good condition going into the winter.


You have all given me some good things to think about.

He is a 12 year old OTTB and currently gets three grain meals per day, 3.25 pounds of Excel Equine’s Animate each time (One 3 qt scoop = 3.25 lbs). Animate is 12% protein, 10% fat, 16% fiber, 9.7% starch and the ingredients start with soybean hulls, wheat middlings, dehydrated alfalfa meal, etc. He gets free choice Orchard/Alfalfa and is stalled 8-10 hours/day then out on grass the rest of the time with a buddy. He has access to the hay in his stall and in his turnout shed.

He is calm and steady by nature but not lazy and tries really hard to do whatever I ask. Maybe you are right about needing to do a bit more conditioning. I ride him 5-6 days per week now. Every fifth or sixth day is a fitness ride, either three 5 minute trots and three 3.5 minute canters or just a 15-20 minute trot. He doesn’t seem overly fatigued after doing either of those workouts. I probably need to go faster in my canters though so they are closer to hand gallops instead of canters.

Thanks for the help!

To condition a prelim horse I would be doing at least 3 sets of 5 minute GALLOPS (no more than 3/4 speed) starting with 5 minutes between each set and slowly dropping it to 1 minute. That would also include 10-15 minute walk and another 10-15 minute trot warm up with a 15-20 minute walk cool down. Once a week at least 8 weeks ahead of season.

Trot sets would be in a hill. Right now for training I do 1/2 mile (200’ elevation change) 8 times 220mpm trot sets. Trot up, walk down. Takes about 30 minutes.

From you description, yes, your horse is way under conditioned.


I would agree that does not sound like enough conditioning work. For Prelim I typically work up to 3, 7 minute trots and 3, 5 minute gallops for interval days, and will add 30 second sprints to these sets at competition speed closer to the event. That is in addition to hacking out at least once a week for 1.5 - 2 hours, as well as long trot days - I vary those, sometimes trotting up a hill as RAyers said, and sometimes long trotting around the same area we do our gallop sets, which has a bit of a slope but not a steep hill. When we do that, it’s at least a 30 minute set for Prelim. For CCI**-L we were up to 45 minutes.


I agree with RAyers and HeartsDesireEventing on the fitness - you need to do a bit more if you feel your horse is tired on the last day. Long hack/trot days (building to at least 30 mins trotting) once a week plus a 3x5 min canter/gallop set day (I do a shorter trot warmup and 2 minutes walk between sets). When I was getting ready for a 2*L I increased to 3x6 minutes.

For feeding, my ISH eats a mix of Buckeye Gro N Win (ration balancer), Ultimate Finish 25 (fat supp) and Tribute Resolve (high fat, lower NSC), plus free choice grass mix hay. This has worked well for him for several years as he tends to get sharp on too much concentrated feed. It’s a fine line between enough fitness and also being able to keep him rideable on dressage day, which I think is the case for a lot of upper level horses.

I have also used BC2A paste on the last day of an event to help with muscle recovery - especially if it’s very hot/humid or a hillier XC course than we are used to. It works well (sometimes too well) :slight_smile: I haven’t used it in a while now that his base of fitness is better but it definitely helped as he was getting used to the longer distances and building fitness as a younger horse.


I would add, do you track their heart rate return while doing gallop sets? You want their HR to drop at least 50% or more between sets to get the best conditioning. Hence why I start with a longer time between sets initially.


I disagree with having a specific amount of fitness you “ have “ to do for a prelim+ horse. I think it depends on the horse and how fit they naturally stay.

More blood/ tbs are naturally fitter.
I never did a ton of gallops on my tbs/ blood horses because Mine are naturally inclined to fitness and too much makes them become Unrideable on xc day. Now this changes when I’m prepping for a long FEI competition. They do have a trot set 1-2 x/ week and anywhere from 15-40 minutes depending on the level they are competing at. And that is straight trots of however many minutes, no breaks.
So my advanced horse will do a 40 minute straight trot with a warmup walk before and cool down walk. I’ve also incorporated walk work on paved roads. I read a study that limited work on pavement helps strengthen the tendons. I mean limited. I walk on pavement for 10-20 minutes or maybe trot 5 minutes here or there on straight paved roads.

I know some UL riders who never do any gallops on their horses, for the same reasons, and do short gallops occasionally or really long trot sets to keep their horses fit. Even when prepping for a long format. I think it all depends on your horse as to what you should be doing for fitness. I also incorporate aquatred into my horses fitness programs.

That being said, my horses are on Purina feed, Ultium Gastric Care and Omelene 500. Three meals a day. 1 pound each at each meal. Plus platinum performance, Equithrive and electrolytes. I do agree that UL horses need more “fuel” for the upper level work we ask of them and a ration balancer alone won’t give them enough energy reserves.


And this is also indicative of how the sport has changed over the past 30 years. Horses do not need to be as fit, contrary to what is continually being said.

When I say long format, I mean true endurance phase etc. not the current “long” format.


Amen to this!
every horse is different and every fitness plan should reflect this! the program for a TB eventing at Prelim is going to look a lot different to a an more old fashioned type WB eventing at prelim

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How is your horse’s weight and topline?

My experience feeding TBs of all kinds from foals to Advanced, is pretty simple…if they need weight/topline, feed them more (probably protein, like alfalfa, or a quality feed, I prefer growth formulas). I have yet to meet a TB in good weight with healthy metabolism that “needed more energy” from food. If the horse isn’t skinny, but well filled out, and feels tired during work: he needs fitness, not food. More trots, longer gallops, more hill hacking.

If you increase fitness work, and the horse is thin, feed more, improve his condition and reevaluate.