Straights versus Compounds - Which Is Best For Your Competition Horse?

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No matter what discipline you compete in, your horse will only perform to his optimum if you fuel his physical needs correctly.  Some riders and producers swear by using straights to feed their horses, whilst others prefer compound feeds.  So, what's the best option?  Read on to find out more.

Straight feeds

The term, 'straights' primarily refers to cereals, including the following:

Although feeding straights offers you total flexibility in what you feed your horse, and you can vary the make-up of his horse feed as you need to, it can be very confusing for the novice horse owner to work out just what straights to feed their horse and in what quantities. 

Straights at first might appear to be the cheapest option, but it's important to remember that they lack many of the vitamins and minerals that are essential for your horse's bone strength, skin, coat, and muscle development.  You'll also need to add a fibre source, a balancing compound and a vitamin supplement to the ration too, in order to provide your horse with everything he needs.  This can make straights an expensive feed choice.

Another potential issue with using straights is that you can't guarantee the quality of each batch, and this makes it hard to balance your horse's ration.  Straights contain no preservatives, and because of the relatively small amounts you use to prepare each feed, they can go stale quite quickly, so there's often quite a lot of waste.

It's very time-consuming preparing straight rations, because you have to carefully weigh out each element of the feed, including measuring out oils, vitamins etc.  This might not be an issue if you have just one horse to feed, but may present a real problem if you have a yard-full.

Compound feeds

Compounds are mixed feed products that come in either a coarse mix or cubed form.  They contain a combination of cereals, fibre, minerals, vitamins and oils.

Your feed supplier will have a wide range of different forms of compounds available that are all formulated to meet different requirements.  For example, there are 'cool' mixes available that are very low in cereal content and are therefore ideal for 'hot' horses or for those that are convalescing and not in work. 

You can also buy specially formulated mixes that are designed for competition and performance horses in hard work.  These contain high amounts of heating cereals like oats,  maize and barley.  All mixes are heavily researched and tested by the feed manufacturer, and you can be confident that the one you choose will be digestible, palatable and correctly balanced for your horse's digestion.

Compound feeds require no preparation or time-consuming weighing; you simply measure out the ration in a feed scoop and give it to your horse.  Compound feeds contain added preservative products, giving them a much longer shelf-life compared to straights.  One downside of feeding compounds is that they can appear rather boring and unappetising to the horse, especially if you feed nuts or lozenges.  However, this can be overcome by adding slices of carrot and apple to the feed.

In conclusion

There are advantages and disadvantages to feeding both straights and compounds.  If you are knowledgeable and experienced, and you want the flexibility to vary the mix of your horse's ration in accordance with his training and work regime, straights might be a good choice.  However, for the more novice horse owner, a suitable compound feed is probably the best option.