Feeding The Polo Pony

Apart from the exercise and fitness regime diet plays the most significant role. The incredible stress as well as the increasing standard of competition in polo requires an energy dense diet combined with adequate protein levels to maintain muscle mass and assist muscle recovery after play. High quality vitamins and minerals must be present in the correct proportions for long-term muscluloskeletal soundness

The key nutrients that will directly influence the performance capabilities of the polo pony are: energy, protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and water.

Do you know how much energy you are feeding your polo pony? For athletic horses, energy is the most important nutritional consideration. If the diet does not provide adequate levels to meet the high demands, loss of body condition and poor performance will occur. Digestible energy levels are recommended at 13 to 15 MJ per kilogram of feed daily during periods of intense exercise. Both Spurwing Performance and Showhorse rations contain these levels in a highly digestible and energy dense form. This is extremely beneficial particularly during intense training when the appetite can be suppressed. 

Energy comes mainly from two sources, fats and carbohydrates. Recent nutritional research overseas indicates that fats (oils) may be the safest source of controlled energy that can be added to the equine diet. All Spurwing rations contain Full-Fat Soya, home-grown and extruded to make the oils, which are rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, available to the consumerin this case the horse. Oils are easily digested in the foregut, where the bulk of digestion process should take place. This energy source is also slow-release adding to the horses stamina, which is particularly important in the game of polo. Carbohydrates, the other main energy source, traditionally come from in particular maize and oats. Maize in its raw form (as a whole grain), whilst a potentially high energy source is notoriously indigestible. Only 27% is digested in the foregut, the rest passes as starch into the hindgut, which could lead to hindgut acidosis. Problems arising from this pH reducing process can be in the form of Laminitis, Colic, Tying-Up (Azoturia), and Ulcers. The extrusion method of pre-cooking the maize gelatinises the starch thereby altering the form by which the starch is presented to the horses digestive system 90% is now digested in the foregut thereby eliminating the foregoing problems described. All of Spurwing grain rations contain maize in this form with enormous benefits to the horse. 

Spurwing has led the way in the use of Full Fat Soya. As mentioned it is included in all rations. Fat contains 2.5 times the amount of digestible energy than that of carbohydrates and protein. Increasing the fat level in the diet makes for an energy dense ration. This is important particularly at tournaments when the pony may be slightly off its feed and a lowered intake must cater for its full energy requirements. American research has shown increased performance from horses fed a lower amount of highly digestible, energy dense, oil enriched feed.

It is not the amount of protein fed that is important but in fact the quality. The ‘building blocks’ of a protein are known as amino acids (Lysine and Methionine being the two most important for horses) and it is the quality and balance of these amino acids that reflect a good or a poor quality protein source. Bran for instance can contain as much as 16% crude protein but because of a poor range of amino acids would not make a suitable concentrated equine diet on its own. Of the 22 amino acids required by the horse, 10 need to be supplied by the diet and these are known as essential amino acids. High quality and easily digestible proteins are required for muscle development and after work muscle repair. A 12 to 14% crude protein is recommended for the performance horse. At Spurwing our Performance and Showhorse rations contain 13 and 14% crude protein respectively. 

Sustained performance is largely determined by the muscle mass-to-fat ratio, which affects the power-to-weight ratio. The ability of a feed protein to build muscle is largely determined by:

  • Digestibility in the small intestine 

  • Quantity of the protein

  • Quality of protein

The formulation and processing at Spurwing concentrates on these three factors. 

Since proper gut function is essential to the health and well being of your horse, fibre should be considered as an essential nutrient and the foundation of any equine ration.

Good quality roughage should be made available to your pony on an ad libitum basis. For polo it is recommended that your pony receive between 50 and 60% concentrate and between 50 and 40% roughage. Only good quality hay free from moulds and minimal dust should be used so as to prevent the occurrence of colic and respiratory problems.

Stable vices such as crib biting and wind sucking are associated with boredom, therefore by providing good quality roughage this can be alleviated.

At Spurwing, Vitamin A is included to maintain blood count and overall performance, Vitamin D for bone formation and Vitamin E for immune response, improved stamina and performance as well as to aid muscle strength and reduce the incidence of Tying-up. The B group vitamins are essential for general metabolism and the utilization of high-energy rations. Vitamin B is also accredited with good temperament. In all Spurwing rations we have ensured that vitamin levels regarded internationally to be optimum, are included.

For mature horses in intense work it is recommended that a calcium to phosphorous ratio of 1.5 – 2.5 calcium to 1 phosphorous should be fed. It is important to consider this ratio, as an imbalance may be harmful and could result in abnormal bone formation. Spurwing Show Horse and Performance both contain calcium to phosphorous ratios above 2 to 1, ideal for your polo pony. Iron and copper essential for blood production, selenium for muscle strength and chromium for muscle bulk are all important and therefore included. Spurwing’s high quality premixes are formulated by top nutritionists in an internationally recognised company thereby guaranteeing that all essential minerals and vitamins are present in the correct amounts.

Electrolytes are substances that dissociate into electrically charged particles called ions. They play a vital role in maintaining osmotic pressure, fluid balance within the body, as well as nerve and muscle activity. For horses, the main route of heat dissipation is through the form of evaporative cooling known as sweating. During exercise, chloride, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium are lost in the sweat and the loss of these electrolytes cause fatigue and muscle weakness, and will reduce the horse’s thirst response, which could lead to dehydration. 

During heavy and strenuous exercise, a horse can lose up to 22 litres of water an hour when the temperature and humidity is high. Unfortunately sweating takes with it water and these vital electrolytes. The loss of fluid and electrolytes can result in a vicious cycle within the horse as the blood volume falls, the pulse weakens, the blood carries less oxygen resulting in a lactic acid build up and ultimately the horse can tie up. During an intense game of polo, water loss can be so extreme that blood volume is decreased and further sweating is not possible. If the horse is not re-hydrated death can result. Spurwing electrolytes are available as supplementation in the feed when an intense chukka demands peak performance and quick recovery. The inclusion of electrolytes particularly leading up to and during a tournament should be considered a MUST.


Free access to water is essential for your horse at all times. In cool weather a horse requires between 25 and 30 litres whereas during heavy sweat loss it will require between 40 and 50 litres. Ensure easy access to clean water at all times as failure to do this could lead to impaction colic.

Fatigue in polo is bought upon by the combination of energy depletion and heat build up. High fat diets offer enormous benefits for temperament, heat loss and performance. Supplying a fat enriched concentrate spares blood glucose levels and maintains the glucose supply for use during high intensity workouts. This means that top speed can be maintained for longer before fatigue sets in.

As the body temperature of the horse increases, blood is diverted away from working muscles to the skin for cooling. This reduction in blood flow to the muscles limits the work capacity and results in muscular fatigue therefore increasing the horse’s reliance on ligaments, joints and tendons. High-fat diets allow horses to perform longer without showing signs of fatigue. Spurwing Show Horse and Performance rations contain ideal sources and quantities of fat for the sporting equine. 

A suitable ration for a polo pony should contain a mixture of quality ENERGY sources. Excessive amounts of starch should be avoided as this can lead to Colic, Laminitis and “Tying-Up” in horses. Protein QUALITY far outweighs protein quantity and one must ensure that a well balanced amino acid profile, such as that found in the Spurwing Soya’s, is fed to your horse at all times. Good quality FIBRE must be included in the diet so as to maintain proper hindgut function. High quality VITAMINS, MINERALS and ELECTROLYTES should never be compromised and always be provided at the correct levels to your polo pony.  If grazing and hay quality is good Spurwing Maintenance and Tranquilo can be used.

At Spurwing Horse Feeds we guarantee a feed range that provides the perfect mix of ALL the essential nutrients in the correct proportions and levels for your polo pony guaranteeing peak performance, a competitive advantage, and hopefully one incredible chukka after another!