Feeding Your Horse (Part 1): Calculating Energy Requirements

Feeding your horse is a combination of art and science. Scientifically, we know there is a minimum requirement for energy, and that particular feeds provide typical levels of that energy. Artfully, every horse, paddock, feed and lifestyle is different, which makes it extremely difficult to comfortably make an exact assumption for every single horse in the world.

How we combine the science and the art will determine how we can successfully manage the feed for our own horses in each individual scenario.

To help you with Feeding Your Horse, we are releasing these blogs in 4 parts:

  1. Calculating the energy requirements for your horse (or herd)
  2. Calculating Feed Quantities
  3. Nutrients Requirements
  4. Calculating Pasture Yield

In each we will discuss both the science and the art, so you can be as informed as possible for your own horses.

Today we are going to discuss energy requirements for your horse.

What is Energy?

Energy is referred to as calories or joules - or in the case of horses, megacalories or megajoules (we will be using megajoules for the purpose of this discussion as this is what most measurements in Australia are in, however if you wish to convert to megacalories click here).

Energy is required for everything we do - in fact, if the minimum energy requirement (known as Resting Energy Requirement) if not met, we can no longer function and will cause muscle wastage as our body utilises our own body fat and protein reserves in an attempt to function normally, and eventually organ failure and death.

Excess energy, on the other hand, is energy that cannot be used in normal daily activity (Digestible Energy Requirement) and is therefore stored as fat. This excess energy storage results in increased inflammation, weight gain, increased pain (there is actually a study that shows excess fat increases the response stimuli to pain!!), improper function of our body and organs and can reduce our lifespan.

Energy, which is provided through nutrition, is very important to manage correctly.

How much energy does my horse need?

The Digestible Energy that your horse requires is reliant on many factors:

  • Age and growth/reproductive status
  • Gelded or Entire
  • Workload
Dietary Energy Requirements for horses varies depending on multiple factors. For full details, including other weight ranges, growth and reproductive status,  click here (cited: MSD Veterinary Manual)

Dietary Energy Requirements for horses varies depending on multiple factors. For full details, including other weight ranges, growth and reproductive status, click here (cited: MSD Veterinary Manual)

Light Work: a horse used for pleasure riding, early training or ridden 1-3 times per week.

Medium Work: a horse worked for performance 5 days per week

Intense Work: a racing horse or polo horse, where significant energy is expending in a short period of time.

My horse is a good/poor doer?

Some horses get fat on the smell of grass, and others loose weight just while eating it. This is where the art comes in!

Use this data as a starting baseline, but tweak your feeding requirements to each individual as required - monitor, tweak, and continue to monitor and tweak as needed. Some poor doers need a higher grain diet, and some good doers can do without much or any supplemental feeding.

My Horse Needs to Loose or Gain Weight

The energy requirements listed above are for horses at maintenance, or in work, with a body condition score between 4-6 (see our Horse Health Facts: Weight Management for more details). In the case of horses need to gain weight, their requirements are higher, and it's the opposite for horses needing to loose weight.

We will discuss actual feeding requirements in Part 2.

Do you have any questions about Calculating Energy for your Horse? Comment Below!


DISCLAIMER - this is a guideline and should be followed under the advice of your treating veterinarian. Equestrian Movement holds no responsibility for any actions undertaken as a part of this guide and only aims to share the research and insights into animal care so owners can simplify their own processes where possible and use it in conjunction with their veterinarians advice. 

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