Drumlough clearing at fence at competition time.

Prior to 1957 with the formulation of the first equine pelleted feed by the Cistercian monks in Gethsemani, Kentucky, horses were fed mostly oats as their primary energy source with flax seed as their omega-3 / protein source. With the advent of compound feeds (pelleted / sweet feeds) many other ingredients were introduced into the equine diet including but not limited to maize, barley, beet pulp, molasses and alternate protein sources such as soy bean, cotton seed etc.

* Buckley, Creighton, Fogarty – ‘Analysis of Canadian & Irish Forage, Oats and commercially available equine
concentrate feed for pathogenic fungi and microtoxins’

~ Nitrogen is an iodine antagonist - David O'Connell, B.Agr.Sc, OCAE

The ability of the horse’s digestive system to handle these new ingredients which provided high starch / low fibre / foreign protein sources remains questionable. Grass, the natural diet of the horse does not contain any starch (Grange Institute, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland – personal communication).

While added effort is needed for competitive performance no one is suggesting that horses fed solely on grass could be competitive in the showjumping arena. But oats being the lowest starch / high soluble fibre grain is the safest energy source to feed to the horse relative to other grains such as barley / maize etc. See chart below.

Under bacterial fermentation high starch diets cause lactic acid production and hind gut acidosis. Three hours later neutral blood pH (7.4) becomes acidic (7.3). This new blood acidity causes excesses calcium excretion in the urine one hour later which, in turn, causes parathyroid hormone release which results in leeching of calcium from the  bones and resultant fractures. Hind gut bacterial fermentation of fibre yields acetic, proprionic and butyric acids. (The Effect of Diet on Acid-Base Status and Mineral Excretion in Horses.

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, PhD, ADVN. Equine
Practice July / August 1994, Vol. 16, No. 7)

Pellet / sweet feeds have higher moisture content than oats which results in more issues with moulds (e.g. aspergillus) in feed. Aspergillus produces toxins which cause liver damage. Up to 54% of sweet feeds / pellet feeds are contaminated with mould as against up to 40% of oats. (Ref. Buckley, Creighton, Fogarty – ‘Analysis of Canadian & Irish Forage, Oats and commercially available equine concentrate feed for pathogenic fungi and microtoxins’) “Horses should, in my opinion, be fed Timothy hay, oats and whatever trace minerals may be needed.” – Lennart Krook, Professor of Pathology, Cornell University, August 7th, 1992, personal communication.

With the above information available this author was invited in November 2014 to formulate and provide a diet for the Irish Army international showjumper Drumiller Lough – a 12-year-old sportshorse and one of 24 horses owned by the Minister of Defence and stabled at McKee Barracks, Dublin, Ireland.

A diet consisting of rolled oats, Champion Oats Balancer® (a multi vitamin, mineral, amino acid supplement formulated / patented by the author) and roasted flaxseed was formulated. The above ingredients were supplied in November 2014 by Belmont Equine Products Ltd, Woodville, Dunboyne, Co Meath, Ireland – www.belmontequineproducts.com – with the following results:

Ref. https://data.fei.org/Horse/Performance.aspx?p=DA3D7FE319FF40D0ECDDDCF06A1F2E60

In November 2015 with the departure of Captain Michael Kelly from the Irish Army Equitation School to Team Cian O’Connor and the arrival of a new Commanding Officer to the Equitation School, the diet was discontinued and an alternative feeding regime put in place. The results of 2014 and 2016 compared to 2015 speak for themselves. While some may feel this is an isolated case, similar successes (avg. Strike rate 26%) have been achieved with this diet in the thoroughbred racehorse population in the US.

The legendary 1930s Irish Army showjumping team of Aherne, Corry, Neylon et al rode horses who were most certainly fed oats and they won competitions at Madison Square Garden, Toronto etc.

Can oats be fed successfully to showjumpers? The facts say yes.

About the Author

Based in Dunboyne, Co. Meath, Dr. Richard McCormick is a graduate veterinarian from University College Dublin Veterinary School since 1968. In 2000, he achieved US Veterinary licensure in the states of Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New York. He has had a life long interest in equine diets and has formulated and patented Champion Oat Balancer®. His email address is the theequinevet@hotmail.com.