Fuel Your Performance: The Essential Guide to Barrel Racing Nutrition

Welcome to the Rafter 3 Horse Development Essential Guide To Barrel Racing Nutrition, we are happy you are here with us today. Barrel racing nutrition is an important topic that affects every aspect of your horse’s life.

As seasoned horse trainers, we know how important it is to make sure our trusty steed is fueled up for your performance and ready to rock in the arena. That’s why we are here to share all our combined knowledge on what to feed and supplement your horse for the best barrel racing performance. Trust me, between the two of us, we have seen it all when it comes to feeding and barrel-racing nutrition! So, we are here to share the goods with you… in this massive essential guide to barrel racing nutrition.

You know how it is, you gotta treat your horse like the athlete they are. That means making sure they’re chowing down on the right grub. The type of food and supplements your horse needs will vary depending on their age, weight, activity level, and overall health.

But, let me tell you, understanding the importance of proper nutrition in barrel racing is crucial to getting the most out of your horse’s performance and increasing their overall health in general. Improper feeding is going to lead to improper conditioning and poor health, which is going to lead to lack of performance and a decline in your horses longevity… wanna learn how to prevent all of these issues? Read on!


Fuel Your Performance: The Essential Guide To Barrel Racing Nutrition

Listen up y’all, because this is serious business. Your barrel racing star needs to eat right in order to shine in the arena. It’s like that old saying, “you are what you eat” – except in this case, you’re a horse and you’re barrel racing. So, let’s break down barrel racing nutrition and how to properly fuel your performance!


This is what helps build those powerful muscles your horse needs to make those sharp turns and fast sprints in barrel racing. It’s like adding a protein shake to your pre-workout routine, but for horses.


These little guys are the primary source of energy for your horse and they need a lot of it. Think of carbs like the gas in your car – you want enough to get you to the finish line.


This is another important source of energy that you don’t want to skimp on. Fat is like a slow-burning fire, giving your horse a steady supply of energy throughout the barrel racing run.


This is like the fiber in your own diet, keeping things running smoothly in the digestive department. We don’t want any “accidents” in the arena, now do we?

Vitamins and Minerals:

These little helpers make sure your horse is healthy and performing at their best. They’re like the vitamins and minerals in a daily multivitamin, but for horses.

So, to sum it up, a balanced diet with the right amount of protein, carbs, fat, fiber, and vitamins and minerals is key to success in barrel racing. So don’t skimp on the feed, because your horse deserves the best.

The Best Horse Feed for Barrel Racing Nutrition

So you want to give your barrel racing beauty the best grub around? Well, let me tell you, you’re in luck, because I’ve done some research and found the top feeds needs for your four-legged athlete.

The best feed for barrel racing horses should be high in protein, carbs, and fat, and low in sugar. This is fairly standard for most horses, but you need to consider additional needs like a special low-starch diet or not grains/ soy.

You need to keep in mind that within your horses feed, there are four main components that are metabolized to produce energy for your horse. They are:

  • Starches
  • Fats
  • Protein
  • Fiber

Let’s discuss each of these a little more in-depth, I know we previously discussed two of these topics earlier, but lets take it a little further to help better our understanding and make wise feed choices for our horses!


Starch, simply put is just a carbohydrate that is able to be broken down in the small intestine of the horse. When starch is broken down it begins to form glucose which is a simple sugar. Glucose is able to be metabolized right away and can provide the horse with immediate energy, or it can be stored within the body as either muscle, sugar, or body fat.

A performance horse is usually exposed to starches by the cereal grains within their feeds. Think oats, barley, or corn within their various components of their diets. Starches can be perfectly fine for some horses, when fed in moderation, but there can be major issues if they are fed in excess. The horses digestive system is designed to digest a forage based diet and can only handle a small amount of starch. Certain horses don’t do well or thrive with any starch and need special feeds formulated without starch.


Fat is added to performance horse feeds, concentrates, and special care and supplementation products to increase the energy intake for high-performance horses, or horses in intense work conditions. Liquid vegetable oil is the most common fat used in horse feeds either in the form of corn oil or soybean oil, flax, or rice bran oil.

Fat is commonly added into performance horse feeds because it is extremely digestible. Some studies suggest that up to 90% of the vegetable oil is able to be digested by the horse and fully metabolised. Feeding rates generally consist of 6-12% fat.

“The National Research Council (NRC, 2007) estimates the crude protein requirement for mature performance horses at 9-11%, depending on work intensity. Protein that is fed in excess of a performance horses’ requirement, can be broken down and utilized for energy. Unfortunately, the use of protein for energy requires the horse to excrete the nitrogen associated with the protein. Excretion of nitrogen requires the horse to drink more water and increases blood ammonia; both situations that are undesirable for performance horses. Thus, feeding excess protein as a source of energy is not a sound nutrition practice.”-LMF horse feeds 

(If you did not check out the full LMF article that the quote was from, you should. It is extremely informative!)

LMF also explains that one of the most under-used sources of energy actually come from the dietary fiber in your horses diet. Interesting, right? Because the horse’s digestive system is designed specifically to digest fibrous materials, hay and pasture (or forage-based feeds) will readily supply your horse a great deal of energy. This is why the saying “they’re feeling the green grass” is so true!

Did you know? (Again, according to the fabulous LMF article) A horse’s digestive system actually REQUIRES that they have at least 1.25% of their body weight, per day, in forage! Even though horses need a large amount of forage, the fiber does require a fair amount of time to digest as it actually ferments within the hind gut. This is essentially a great thing because it provides your horse with a constant supply of energy that is sustainable. (Primarily the reason we want forage based instead of grain based diets.)

With recent development there has been the development of super fibers that contain essentially that same equivalent of energy as oats would. Some of these include:

  • Beet pulp
  • Soybean seed coats

Other attributes of horse feeds that you need to take into consideration:

  • What is the protein percentage and fat content of the feed? 
  • What type of lifestyle is the feed aimed at? 
  • What brand is it, and have you done any research on the brand and their reputation or spoken to your vet about the feed?
  • Have you cross referenced the ingredients and nutrition label amounts with other similar feeds?
  • Have you researched how the feed is processed/ manufactured and if they check for toxins, mold, chemicals, or other potential hazards?

The next thing that we need to discuss is the TYPE of feed. There are a plethora of feed types available on the market, and to be quite honest with you, choosing the right barrel racing nutrition to fuel your performance horse can be a really tricky task. There are hundreds of brands and thousands on feeds to choose from.

Here is a quick break down of the primary different types of feed and what it means for your barrel racing horse.

  • Complete feed made for seniors, performance horses, or special needs (contains all needed vitamins and minerals, you do not want to feed extra supplementation or vitamins without speaking first with a vet or nutritionist.)
  • Complete feeds made for all ages and stages (Usually slightly different in nutrient content than the other specialized complete feeds, but still contains all of the needed nutrient composition.) 
  • Supplements– To be fed with forage and feeds, usually not a complete supplement but may contain added ingredients. It is important to check amounts ingredients on the nutritional label or speak with a nutritionist when you are combining supplements with other feeds in order to nose overdose your horse.
  • Ration balancing feed– Almost supplemental in nature and used as a small feeding amount as an additive or balancer to hay or forage rations.
  • Concentrate feed- Very similar to the ration balancing feed. Used in small amounts and usually a very heavily fortified feed meant to replace any extra supplements or feeds. There are also many specialized concentrates/ balancers made for horses with special feeding requirements of special needs/ senior horse care.
  • Breeding and growing feeds– Contains the nutrients and extra calories required for breeding stallions, pregnant and lactating mares, and young/ growing horses. There are special milk replacement and fortified weanling feeds available as well.


Check out this article by Clair Thunes, PhD, and an independent equine nutrition consultant describing the difference between complete feeds and ration balancers. Check it out HERE.

A portion of her article:

“For simplicity’s sake, the easiest way to think about a ration balancer is as a supplement. It is a heavily fortified feed with a small daily recommended feeding rate. Its purpose is to provide your horse with the essential nutrients that are most likely to be insufficient in a forage-based diet. Ration balancers are not intended to be fed for extra calories.”

“Complete” is a term used to describe a feed that contains everything your horse needs in his diet, including the forage; thus, complete feeds can be fed as the sole ration—no need for hay or pasture, just provide water and the complete feed. As a result, they tend to have very large serving sizes, often around 1.5% of the horse’s body weight.”

It is a great article and very insightful. I definitely recommend reading the entire thing.

Supplements to Help Fuel Your Horse’s Performance and take your barrel racing nutrition to the next level

In addition to the right feed, there are a few key supplements that can take your horse’s nutrition to the next level for barrel racing. Some of these options should be fed only on occasion and some are daily supplements. Make sure to read the labels and feeding directions for each feed. Here are some additional supplement options to consider:

An important warning: Make sure you are extremely careful about not exceeding the recommended dosages for feeding and supplementation. A horses gut system is very complex, unique, and different than ours. It needs to be handled with care and a large deal of precaution, because improper feeding can lead to a world of issues ranging from lacking in performance to founder and even a higher risk of fractures and other atrocities you will want to avoid. The best bet is to speak with a vet or equine nutritionist to ensure you have a great feeding and supplementation routine. 

Improper feeding can lead to issues like laminitis… want to learn more about laminitis? 

Joint supplements

Joint supplements are essential for protecting your horses joints and soft tissues. High-performance athletes can always benefit from additional aid with joint health and preservation. There are many great options to choose from when it comes to joint supplements, and the best option is going to be discussing each option with your vet. Joint supplements and treatments can come in the form of wraps and rubs to injectables or oral supplements.

Oils and omega supplements

Having a high-quality oil for your horse is an essential aspect of their feeding regimen. It also helps with skin, coat, and hair conditioning and eyes and brain health. My personal favorite oil is the 03 Animal health omega oil. I have had beyond phenomenal results with in and my horses were glorious looking and even moved better. Highly recommend checking it out. You do not use much, so the product goes a long way.

Electrolyte supplements

Electrolyte supplements are essential to have on hand when you have top performing athletes in your barn. Fuel your performance at shows with electrolytes in the water to encourage your horse to drink more, and replace what they have lost during work and training/ competition. Electrolyte supplements are not a daily necessity, but are very beneficial, especially at shows and events.

Vitamin E supplements

Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamins that aids in your horses overall health. From coat care and condition all the way to proper immune system function and promoting a healthy nervous system. Platinum performance and Smartpak both have great, affordable, yet high-quality options.

B-complex vitamin supplements

B-complex vitamins are a grouping of water soluble vitamins. The horse’s body naturally produces most of the requirement of b-complex vitamins, but supplementation can be beneficial as its basically gives the horse’s body a rest from having to manufacture so much. What the horse is not able to create in their body, they eat within the forage of their diets each day. Supplementation has also been shown to be highly beneficial for high-performance horses or horses under great amounts of stress.

Read a great article on b-complex vitamins from Ker

Pre and probiotics and gastric support supplements

Horses have a very different and complex digestive system in comparison to ours. While both our horses and us have complex microbiota, organisms, symbiotic relationships, and many other various things happening and taking place, pre and probiotics will be beneficial for your horse, and for keeping their gut system healthy and replenishing microflora. A healthy and balanced gut is going to mean a healthy and balanced horse!

When would I go for a supplement that is more than just a pre-probiotic combination?

Many horses are prone to gastrointestinal upset, colic, ulcers, and many other problematic issues. The best way to treat and prevent these issues are by using gastric support medications, supplements, and treatments. Of course, make sure to check with your vet prior to any administration of any drug or treatment.

If you suspect your horse may be experiencing pain-related behavioral issues or dealing with ulcers, be sure to check out our article on pain vs. behavioral issues in horses and how to fix them.

Magnesium supplements

Magnesium supplements are key for muscle and nerve function, as well as regulating heart rate and blood pressure. It’s like giving your horse a performance booster shot.

BCAA supplements/ endurance supplements/ creatine

BCAA is short for branch chain amino acids. These basically aid the horses is retaining muscle and glycogen stores. These supplements are pretty costly, so they are usually only used in the most elite barrel racing nutrition programs. Last but not least, creatine supplements! These help improve muscle endurance, making them a great choice for barrel racing horses. Endurance = more barrels knocked down, and who doesn’t want that?

I hope that this list has given you a great idea of feeding a barrel racing horse and how to optimize and fuel your performance! We are all about optimization here at Rafter 3 Horse Development.  Next we are going to discuss the primary supplements/ brands that we approve of and recommend here at R3.

A list of R3 approved supplements:

Platinum performance Equine:

This is Jamie and Makala’s go to for supplementation.

“Hey everyone, Jamie here. I wanted to give a quick review of platinum performance CJ, which I have used for roughly 8+ years. It is a great product that made a difference with every horse in the barn we used it on. There was a noticeable difference in athletic ability, coat and hair condition, overall health and conditioning, and even joint mobility. This product truly is phenomenal and I highly recommend it.

I personally used the “Platinum pak” which pre-measures out a feeding for your horse in a convenient pouch, shipped directly to you in a resealable bucket. They are fully customizable, which is great, and platinum offers full-barn service. I would consult with the platinum team or an equine nutritionist before using their products if you have a current feed regimine you are wishing to change or optimize as they can guide you on which supplements or products will work best for your horse and their personal needs. Each horse is different, and each region is different with different deficiencies and plethoras of certain vitamins and minerals within the soil/ hay.”-Feel free to reach out to Makala or I if you need any advice on who to speak with or any advice. We are here to help you! 

Bluebonnet and Stride Animal Health Feeds

Both Bluebonnet and Stride Animal Health were formulated and are represented by Equine nutritionist and chemist, Dr. Jyme Nichols. I highly recommend her podcast, The Feedroom Chemist. She speaks all about feeding horses at various lifestages and points, ulcers, senior horse care and feeding, feeding issues, hay analysis, and so much more!

“Jamie again with you. I just wanted to tell you all that Dr. Jyme Nichols podcast has been an extremely helpful resource in furthering my education in equine nutrition. One of my long standing goals is to eventually become a certified nutritionist, but her podcast seems almost more insightful than something I could go learn in a classroom.”

Last but surely not least, check out SmartPak

Smartpak is another great option that gives you a really wide selection of products to choose from. You also have a similar option to Platinum in that you can select supplements and order them in a Smartpak form that is easy to peel and feed. Many of the hunter/jumper and dressage riders trust Smartpak for their supplements and choose a great fully-fortified feed brand to supplement.

There are so many other brands and feeds we could discuss in this article, but we are not going to cover them all today! If you would like to learn more about barrel racing horse nutrition, please let us know if the comments below! Make sure to like, subscribe, share, and sign up so that you don’t miss any of our future articles. We have them coming to you hot off the press multiple times per week. Make sure to also head over to Rafter 3 Horse Development’s Youtube page to check out our videos, or you can stop buy our video archives page.

Thanks for tuning in with us today!

Remember, always check with your vet before starting any new supplement regimen. And don’t forget to fuel your own performance with a balanced diet and plenty of rest too! Happy trails, y’all!




One response to “Fuel Your Performance: The Essential Guide to Barrel Racing Nutrition”

  1. Well-written and informative, providing valuable insights into feeding and supplementing horses for barrel racing. It is a useful resource for anyone looking to optimize their horse’s nutrition for improved performance and overall health.

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