Using Heart Rates to Measure Fitness

Daily heart rate measurements should be a fundamental part of the day-to-day management of equine athletes. In this newsletter we will discuss the fitness of the horse, with “fitness” referring to the aerobic fitness of a horse and how fitness can be determined using measurements of heart rate at the trot. Aerobic fitness refers to the capacity of a horse to transport oxygen from the air, through the lungs and then be pumped by the heart through the blood to provide the muscle cells with the oxygen to support metabolism of fuels such as glucose and fat. Aerobic fitness is relevant to every equine competition, except perhaps Quarter Horse races, which are all over in less than 20 seconds.

Heart rates at rest

Heart rates (HRs) in a resting horse cannot be used to reliably assess fitness, as they are in human athletes. In human athletes, the resting heart rate, usually recorded first thing in the morning, gradually decreases with improved fitness. However, this technique is not reliable in horses because the resting HR can vary so quickly with the slightest disturbance to a horse’s relaxed state. For example, a very relaxed horse might give a heat rate of 30 beats per minute (bpm), but a few minutes the later the HR can be over 100 bpm, due to fear, sudden noise, excitement, or even anticipation of exercise.

This does not mean that resting HRs should not be recorded. In very relaxed horses, such as some endurance horses, a sudden increase in resting HR at rest can alert the trainer to a potential problem, such as a fever, pain, or other disturbance to the horse’s normal state.

Heart rates during exercise

The best way to simply assess fitness is to use HR measurements during exercise. The key is to measure HR and speed in the horse. This is best done by using a heart rate monitoring system like the Polar RS800G3 for ridden horses that combines HR measurement with speed measurement by global positioning system. I am happy to provide advice concerning the best system for your particular circumstances. Good systems can be purchased for less than $1000.

It is important to measure speed, because not all horses trot at the same speed, and it is possible for the trot speed to differ a little from one day to the next. So the first fundamental measurement is speed, and then to assess the HR at a steady speed. Steady speed means a speed that is constant, not varying more than 1-2 kph, for at least 30 seconds.

Luckily, with the heart rate monitoring systems now available it is possible for riders and trainers to measure heart rate and speed during exercise in ridden (or driven) horses whenever they desire. The Polar RS800G3 for ridden horses measures HR and speed frequently, and the results can be easily downloaded to a computer for closer inspection.

When to measure heart rates

HRs at the start of trotting should be ignored for a few minutes because there is usually unstable HRs, due to excitement and the sudden disturbance to the cardiovascular system. In these first few minutes, HRs are usually higher than their true steady state HR. After a few minutes, the HR settles down. For example, HR might vary from 140-160 bpm in the first few minutes, and then settle down to a steady value in the range of 125-128 bpm, even though the horse has been trotting at 16 kph all the time.

If the HR does not settle down to a steady value, it probably means that the horse is excited. HRs on a day after the horse has not been exercised are often a little higher and more variable, due to excitement. These emotional disturbances are what make fitness testing of horses so challenging, but it is possible to measure fitness reliably if these factors are accounted for. It is always important to watch the horse carefully during the trotting HR test.  Is it jumping around abnormally, or is there a new rider on-board? Anything that might disturb the horse from its normal state needs to be accounted for.

HRs during trotting can also be affected (usually abnormally increased) by different ground conditions, the use of a different saddle, riding hills, and so on. So it is very easy to record a false high value. When I examine heart rate data I look at the speed and HR record and look for the lowest HRs at the steady speed. I also test the horse several times before expressing confidence about the true result for each horse.

Signs of improving fitness

If a horse’s HR relationship to its trotting speed is regularly monitored it will be easy to observe trends over time, or even sudden changes. A gradual decline in HR at the same speed means that the horse is responding to training – it is getting fitter. An alternative might be that the horse is slimming down, and so it does not have to increase its HR so much to provide the oxygen needed for the trotting exercise!

What does it mean if heart rates increase over time?

A gradual increase in heart rate over time in a horse in training would be an unusual finding, but it could be explained by increased fatness of the horse. A gradually worsening respiratory problem could also cause HRs to increase.

A sudden increase in HR from one day to the next when trotting could mean that the horse was overly excited on that day, had developed a problem causing pain (such as a bruised foot), or had new gear that was not comfortable. Monitoring HRs regularly helps a trainer know when the problem occurs, and when it is resolved.

Measuring the trot HRs in the days after racing or competition is also a valuable method of assessing the recovery after a race. They should be the same as before the event or race. Higher HRs compared to before the race or competition could mean that the horse has a problem that needs investigation by a veterinary surgeon.


The technology is now available for all horse riders and trainers to regularly monitor HR during trotting. Each day of trotting offers an opportunity to make sure that the horse is responding to training as expected, has not developed any new problems, or has suitably recovered after competition or racing.

Comprehensive tests of fitness for intensive competitions, such as racing and eventing, should include assessments of the HR responses during trotting, as well as measurements of HR and speed during faster workouts. However, day-to-day assessments during trotting are fundamental to the day-to-day monitoring of all athletic horses.

Written by David Evans PhD BVSc

Dr David Evans graduated BVSc (Hons) in 1975 and spent seven years in veterinary practice prior to completing a PhD in equine exercise physiology at the University of Sydney in 1987. His current consultancy activities include university teaching and research in aspects of equine science. Dr Evans has contributed to 11 book chapters on aspects of equine exercise physiology, and to more than 80 refereed research publications. Many of these reports are concerned with aspects of fitness testing and scientific aspects of training and performance.  As well, he continues work in Australia and overseas as a consultant to horse owners and trainers, with a focus on practical applications of the science of equine fitness measurement and training.


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How to Choose a High Quality Horse Feed

With literally hundreds of feeds available for all of us to choose from for our horses the choice can be a bit overwhelming. While FeedXL is a brilliant tool in helping you see which feeds deliver the nutrients your horse needs and which don’t, what FeedXL can’t help you with is determining the actual quality of the feed. Nutrient profile and balance is one thing, but the ingredients used to make the feed are another thing entirely, and it is this aspect of feeding that you need to stay fully in control of.

Things like the ingredients used to make a feed, the quality of protein in the feed, whether the feed is made to the same recipe or made using least cost batching methods, how it is processed and the facility it is made in all contribute to determining a feed’s quality. These aspects of feed quality are discussed in more detail below.

Ingredients Used

When considering purchasing a feed have a look at the ingredients listed on the bag or label. First major rule is, if there are no ingredients listed, don’t buy the feed. This is not common but it does happen. If you have no idea what is in the feed then do not put it in your horse’s mouth.

The ingredients list will give you a good indication of whether the feed is a high quality feed or not. When looking at an ingredient list you should take note of the actual ingredients used and the number of macro ingredients (the grains, pulses and oilseeds) used. Higher quality feeds will use more ‘whole’ ingredients like corn, barley, wheat, oats, rice, full fat soybeans, sunflower seeds, faba or field beans, lupins (if you are in a part of the world that uses lupins for horses) and linseed or flax and they will contain a big variety of ingredients. When I say ‘whole’, it doesn’t mean they are in the feed in a whole form, just that the entire ingredient is used in the feed and not just a part or a by-product of it. Higher quality feeds will also list the specific oils they use if any. Lower quality feeds will list more generic or lesser quality ingredients like protein meals, pollard and bran (which can come under many names including wheat midds, middlings, broll, millrun and millmix), cottonseed meal and unnamed vegetable oils and there will often be less than 5 macro ingredients used.

Determining feed quality just from an ingredient list isn’t exactly cut and dried. For example, a lot of high quality feeds contain a component of pollard and bran, and used properly these ingredients do add value to a ration. However, if these lower quality ingredients appear to make up the majority of a feed AND the feed has only two or three main ingredients, the likelihood is that the feed is not going to give you as good a result as you could get from using a feed with better quality and more variety of ingredients.

In short, look for higher quality ‘whole’ ingredients and lots of them in an ingredient list for a higher quality feed.

Protein Quality

Protein quality is one of, if not the major characteristic of a feed that determines its quality. If a feed contains poor quality protein your horse’s coat, hooves and muscle development will all suffer. The quality of protein is determined by the amount of essential amino acids (amino acids the horse can’t make for itself) in that protein source. Proteins that have a high concentration of the most limiting essential amino acids are considered good quality while proteins with low levels of essential amino acids are considered poor quality.

The problem is, protein is usually displayed on feed labels as crude protein, which is simply calculated by multiplying the amount of nitrogen in a feed by 6.25. Nitrogen is in all protein and there is also ‘non-protein nitrogen’ sources so the crude protein really tells you nothing about the quality of protein in a feed.

To determine the protein quality you should look at the feed’s ingredients to see where the protein is coming from. Feeds containing soybean, lupins, canola meal, faba or field beans will contain higher quality protein than feeds containing protein only from cereal sources (for example the wheat protein found in wheat midds/pollard and bran) or with protein from non-specified vegetable protein meals or cottonseed meal.

Lysine is what is called the first limiting amino acid in an equine diet because it is usually the one that is first to be too low in a horse diet and therefore becomes limiting (for growth, muscle development or whatever it is your horse needs protein for at the time). So looking at the level of lysine in a feed (and also in FeedXL) will give you an indication of the quality of protein in the feed. However, there are two problems with lysine.

For learn more about protein quality, click here to read our article ‘Understanding Protein Quality in Horse Feed’.

Batching method

There are two main ways companies will ‘batch’ their feeds. The first is using least cost principles where the company will list a selection of ingredients on the label (using wording something like ‘ingredients selected from’ or broad wording like ‘cereal grains including barley, wheat and corn’) and then when they make the feed they will use whatever combination of these ingredients is the least expensive to meet the feed’s minimum requirements. Least cost batching is common practice in the pig and poultry industries and it is used to make horse feeds. While feeds made in this way will deliver the minimum nutrient specifications for each feed (so you will always get the specified level of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals) the ingredients used and thus the ingredient and protein quality can change from batch to batch.

The second method of batching used is to use the same ingredients and the same recipe each time the feed is made. This batching method give a more consistent and often higher quality product than those made using least cost batching. If you are not sure which batching method your feed supplier uses and it is something you would like to know, you should contact and ask them.

The feed mill

Another important factor determining quality is the standard of the facility used to make the feed. You should check with your feed supplier to see what sort of quality assurance programs they operate under (for example the Feed Safe program) and whether or not the mill is an equine dedicated mill (eliminating the risk of potentially fatal contamination of your feed with ingredients like ionophores (Rumensin)).

When quality really matters

Not all horses need to be fed high quality feeds. For example a good doer that is only in light work will more than likely do very nicely on good quality forage and if need be a small amount of a lower quality feed. However, horses that are under a lot of physical pressure, for example broodmares that are breeding every year, young, growing horses, horses that need to gain a lot of body condition or build muscle mass and horses in heavy work will always do a lot better on a quality feed with good ingredients and high quality protein.

The quality of forage your horse is eating also has an impact on how good a quality feed you need to feed for the best results. Horses on low quality forage, and particularly low quality C4 or subtropical type forage will always do better when fed a high quality feed with good quality protein. Horses on high quality forage will often do well when eating a lower quality feed.

So when you are next choosing a feed for your horse take notice of what and how many ingredients are used and consider what the protein quality is likely to be. If it is important to you, look at how the feed is batched and check out the quality assurance programs used by the manufacturer. You then of course also need to make sure the feed fits into your horse’s diet in FeedXL. Using both your own knowledge of feed quality together with FeedXL’s calculations will always give you the best results.


Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.


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Feeding Your Horse After Exercise

When horses exercise they burn up stored energy supplies, damaging muscle tissue and losing water and electrolytes via sweat. Feeding after exercise is important to replenish these energy, water and electrolyte stores and provide protein for muscle repair. Failure to do so can result in reduced performance, muscle wastage and slow recovery times. What you feed, how you feed it and when it is fed all play a role in determining how effectively you replace what your horse uses during moderate to high intensity exercise and how quickly they will recover.

Replenish energy reserves

When a horse exercises, its muscles use glycogen (glucose that is stored by the muscles), fatty acids and some amino acids as fuel. During fast sprint type, high intensity work, muscles operate under anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions and primarily use glycogen as an energy source. Under slower, low to moderate, intensity work the muscles will primarily burn fatty acids for energy under aerobic (oxygen using) conditions, saving muscle glycogen supplies for when it is needed for high intensity work.

If muscle glycogen supplies are depleted, the horse quickly becomes fatigued. Therefore it is important that after exercise, muscle glycogen supplies are replenished, otherwise the next time the horse exercises it will start with less glycogen on board and will reach a state of fatigue faster.

The fastest way to replenish glycogen supplies in equine athletes is to feed a grain‐based meal following exercise. Grains contain starch, which is digested and absorbed as glucose and this glucose is directly used to replenish glycogen supplies. The grains fed should be cooked (either extruded, micronised, steam flaked or boiled) to maximise their small intestinal digestibility (so more of the starch can be digested and absorbed as glucose).

A grain‐based meal should be fed within an hour of completing exercise. Once the horse has returned to a near normal respiration rate and started to cool down the meal can be fed. If the horse has completed its exercise for the day it can be fed its normal morning or evening feed at this time. If you are still taking part in competition (for example you are at a vet check point in an endurance ride) you should limit the meal to 200 g of grain per 100 kg of bodyweight (or 0.2 lb per 100 lb of bodyweight) so that you don’t induce a large increase in blood insulin levels (as discussed in Newsletter #16).

The horse’s normal ration of hay and/or pasture should also be made available immediately following exercise. If your horse cannot have grain in its diet or does not have grain as part of its normal daily ration you must not use grain to replenish glycogen supplies following exercise. Instead, these horses should just receive their normal non‐grain ration. It may take these horses longer to recover from very heavy exercise and as such they may not be capable of sustaining the workloads required for intense sports like horseracing, endurance and polo.

A note about overweight and lightly worked horses

If your horse is overweight or lightly worked it isn’t necessary to replace glycogen supplies following work. The focus for overweight horses should be to burn calories and lose weight. Following exercise, their body will gradually replace any muscle glycogen that was burnt during exercise using other sources of energy like propionate, a volatile fatty acid absorbed from their hindgut that can be turned into glucose. Feeding grain after exercise will only serve to slow weight loss progress and may even cause weight gain. Overweight horses are also unlikely to exercise at an intensity that uses up any significant amount of glycogen.

Likewise it is unnecessary to replenish glycogen supplies by feeding a grain meal following exercise in horses that are only lightly worked or horses that are only worked a couple of times a week. These horses are unlikely to burn much glycogen and/or they have plenty of time to easily replace what they did use before their next bout of exercise.

Look after the muscles

During exercise a horse’s muscles experience multiple little rips and tears that have to be repaired. The muscles also need to grow, strengthen and tone so they can cope with the work required of them. Ensuring crude protein and lysine requirements are met according to FeedXL will mean your horse’s muscles have access to plenty of amino acids to repair and grow, however supplying high quality protein in the form of whey protein concentrate immediately following work (within the first 15 minutes of finishing exercise) may help lightly muscled horses build muscle bulk faster.

Whey protein provides rapidly absorbed amino acids that first feed a horse’s muscles, second signal to them to slow or stop the muscle breakdown process that occurs during and following exercise and finally, provides muscles with the building blocks they need to grow and strengthen.

Dose rates of 10 to 20 grams per 100 kg of bodyweight of whey protein concentrate are commonly used. There are also equine specific whey protein and other high protein supplements available for this purpose. Timing is critical for these supplements to be effective; it must be given immediately after exercise (as opposed to giving it with the next meal).


There has been much debate over the years about when to allow a hot horse to drink water following exercise, with the common perception being that allowing a hot horse to drink causes colic. While you may wrestle with whether to let your horse drink immediately following exercise I would urge you to use your common sense and knowledge of your own horse. If your horse wants to drink following exercise and doesn’t seem to suffer any ill effects, then I would suggest allowing him to drink, as the positive effects of rehydration will be far greater than the benefits associated with not allowing a horse to drink until it is completely cooled. Drinking water will also help to lower a horse’s core body temperature following exercise.

You should observe a few guidelines:

  1. Offer cool water that is at a temperature that is comfortable for you to hold your hand in (i.e. not too cold).
  2. If you horse is a real guzzler, get him to take a few small breaks when drinking.

If you have observed your horse get colicky after a big drink then it would be wise to allow access to water gradually after exercise. But if your horse drinks with no ill effects there is no reason to withhold water following exercise.

Research has also shown that giving slightly salty water (which you can make by adding up to 9 grams of sodium chloride, which is common table salt, per litre to your horse’s water) as the first water your horse has access to, followed by giving access to plain water aids in achieving high fluid intakes and faster rates of rehydration.

Replace electrolytes

When horses sweat they lose large amounts of the electrolyte minerals sodium, chloride and potassium. They also lose smaller amounts of magnesium and calcium. These minerals lost in sweat must be replaced to allow full rehydration and normal sweating and muscle function in subsequent bouts of exercise.

Ensuring that your horse’s requirements for sodium, potassium and chloride are met according to FeedXL and making sure your horse has free access to a salt lick is adequate to ensure electrolyte repletion on a daily basis. Under intense workloads (for example endurance) or when horses are working in very hot and humid conditions you may need to consider using a specially designed electrolyte replacer for horses.

When selecting an electrolyte replacer for your horse, read the label of the available electrolyte supplements carefully. Be wary of products that contain less than 800 grams per kg of actual electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium). Some products on the market are more than 50% ‘filler’ (usually dextrose or glucose) which is of little benefit to the horse as part of an electrolyte replacement program. Some glucose is necessary for the effective absorption of sodium, but glucose should represent no more than 10% of an electrolyte supplement.

The use of electrolyte replacers is a large and relatively complex topic that deserves a dedicated FeedXL newsletter.


Failure to replace what a fit horse in moderate to high intensity work uses during a bout of exercise will mean that the horse gradually becomes less and less able to complete the work required of it. Using a digestible cooked grain based feed in the first hour following the completion of exercise will restore muscle glycogen supplies. Feeding a high quality protein supplement like a whey protein concentrate within 15 minutes of the completion of exercise will feed the muscles and allow them to repair and strengthen. Providing access to water, and initially slightly salty water following exercise will allow your horse to rehydrate itself. And finally, ensuring dietary requirements for the electrolyte minerals sodium, chloride and potassium are met according to FeedXL will allow your horse to replenish electrolyte minerals lost during exercise as it eats its normal daily ration.


Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.


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Feeding Horses Before Exercise

The question of whether you should feed a horse before exercise is one that is commonly asked. Most of us were told over and over again by our parents not to swim for 30 minutes after eating or we would get a muscle cramp, so we generally tend to think that eating before exercise is not a wise thing to do. But is this the case for horses? The answer is yes and no…

Empty stomach or full stomach before exercise?

The horse is a monogastric and a continuous grazer, so logic says that a horse’s stomach should never be empty. Having a full stomach is important for the horse as it stops gastric acids from the lower part of the stomach splashing around and irritating the upper sections of the gastrointestinal tract. This acid splash that occurs in horses exercised on an empty stomach is thought to contribute to the development of gastric ulcers.

Therefore, if a horse is stabled without constant access to forage, or if it has been more than 2 hours since the horse last grazed or fed, you should feed your horse before exercise. A small feed will protect a horse from gastric ulcers in 2 ways. Chewing the feed will stimulate saliva production and saliva acts as a buffer in the stomach. And the feed will fill up the stomach and prevent gastric acids from splashing around (for more information on Gastric Ulcers you should read FeedXL Newsletter #8: Avoiding Gastric Ulcers).

What should you feed before exercise?

What you feed before exercise is very important. You should only feed forage before exercising your horse and preferably long stem forage like hay. Hay requires a lot of chewing and will stimulate plenty of saliva production which provides good buffering protection for the stomach. While any forage that forms parts of your horse’s everyday diet is acceptable, if you are concerned about gastric ulcers in your horses, alfalfa (lucerne) hay has been shown to be helpful when it comes to preventing or resolving ulcers. So if alfalfa hay is available and is fed as part of your horse’s normal diet, this would make a good choice for a pre‐ride or exercise feed.

How much hay should be fed?

While you don’t want to give your horse a very large feed of hay before exercise you do need to feed enough to provide some fill in the stomach. Depending on when your horse was last fed, you should feed between 200 – 300 g/100 kg (0.2 – 0.3 lb/100 lb) of bodyweight, using the larger meal size if your horse hasn’t been fed for 5 or more hours and the smaller meal size if it has been 5 hours or less since your horse’s last meal.

What should not be fed before exercise?

Never feed grain within 4 to 5 hours of a ride or exercise, and that includes any feed that is high in starches or sugar. The starches and sugars in these feeds are absorbed from the small intestine largely as glucose, which triggers the release of insulin from the horse’s pancreas. Blood glucose and insulin levels following a grain feed generally peak at 2 to 3 hours following a meal and return to normal within 4 to 5 hours. Insulin is a hormone that instructs the horse’s muscles and organs to store away glucose.

So if there is insulin in a horse’s blood when exercise starts, the horse isn’t able to mobilise glucose stores to burn and fuel the muscles during work (because insulin is there telling the muscles to store all the glucose away). The horse’s ability to burn fat as an energy source is also reduced when insulin is present. The result of feeding a grain or high starch and sugar feed too close to when the horse is exercised is the horse that will run out of muscle energy supplies and fatigue quickly.

This concept is particularly important for high intensity exercise where a horse’s glucose supplies are burnt up very quickly. In endurance type activities, large grain meals should not be fed within 4 to 5 hours prior to the start of exercise, however smaller grain meals may be fed during exercise to top up muscle glycogen stores and prolong the time to fatigue.

In summary

Horses are constant feeders so they should, in theory, always have a full stomach. Feeding a small meal of hay just before exercise, particularly if it has been 2 or more hours since a horse’s last feed, will stimulate saliva production and provide fill in the stomach to protect the stomach from gastric ulcers. In contrast, grain or any feed high in starches or sugars should not be fed within 4 to 5 hours of exercise as these feeds trigger an insulin response which then stops a horse from mobilising the muscle glycogen and fat stores it needs to fuel muscles during exercise. And this will result in your horse tiring quickly.


Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.


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Complete Feeds vs Balancer Pellets: Choosing a Feeding Method

Complete Feeds, Concentrates/Balancer Pellets and Supplements—Choosing how to feed

While there are many commercial feed and supplement options available, they can be classified into 3 broad categories; complete feeds, concentrates/balancer pellets and supplements. Depending on your own personal preferences you can use one or a combination of these options to put together a diet for your horse.

This article will take a look at what the 3 options are, how they should be used and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Complete Feeds

A complete feed is a feed that has been formulated to meet the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements of horses. They can be in the form of pellets, cubes, meal or sweetfeeds. Each complete feed will be formulated specifically for a certain type of horse. For example there are complete feeds for breeding horses, horses in sales preparation, pleasure horses, horses in hard work, horses that tie‐up … the list can go on and on.

Complete feeds will contain a variety of ingredients which are usually some combination of grains and grain byproduct (wheat, barley, corn, oats, bran, pollard), legumes or oilseeds (soybean, faba bean, lupins and other protein meals like cottonseed), minerals like salt, limestone and dicalcium phosphate as well as a trace‐mineral and vitamin premix. Many also contain oil.

For a complete feed to actually be “complete” when you use it in your horse’s diet, you must follow the manufacturer’s feeding recommendations for the feed. For example, a working horse feed will have a table on the bag that will say something like for a 500 kg horse in moderate work, you should feed 3 – 4 kg/day. If you feed less than this amount, your horse’s diet will not contain the required levels of vitamins and minerals and the feed will no longer be complete.

A common problem people find with complete feeds is that these feeding rates are too high, with many owners exclaiming their horse would explode if it was fed that much. If this is the case, the complete feed may need to be “topped up” with an appropriate supplement. Using this approach allows you to control your horse’s calorie intake, without compromising vitamin and mineral intakes. Alternatively, if the feeding rates of complete feeds are always too high for your horse, consider using either a concentrate/balancer pellet or supplement.

Complete feeds also don’t allow much flexibility in a feeding program, because deviating from the recommended feeding rates will mean you also unbalance your horse’s diet, so horses needing constant adjustment of their diet according to daily workload, bodyweight and temperament aren’t well suited to a complete feed.

Keep in mind that not all “complete feeds” are created equally. Some will do a very good job of meeting requirements when fed at the correct rates, while others will still leave many deficiencies in your horse’s diet, even when being fed at the recommended levels. This is where FeedXL is a big help—it allows you to easily see which complete feeds really are complete and which aren’t.

A diet for a working horse using a complete feed might look like this:

3.5 kg/day of complete feed
Plus chaff, hay and/or pasture

Concentrates and Balancer Pellets

Concentrates and balancer pellets are fed to meet a horse’s vitamins and mineral requirements, but unlike complete feeds, they only meet part of a horse’s energy and protein requirement. They can be in the form of pellets or sweetfeeds and have a feeding rate of between 0.5 kg and 2.5 kg/day. Concentrates and Balancer Pellets are designed to be fed in conjunction with other protein and energy sources like grains, legumes and oilseeds. They can also be fed alone when the horse has access to good quality pasture or is an easy keeper that doesn’t need the additional calories or protein.

The major advantage of a concentrate or balancer pellet over a complete feed is that it allows you more flexibility within your feeding program. Once you find the required rate of concentrate or pellet your horse needs to meet vitamin and mineral requirements you can then customise the rest of the diet to suit your horse’s tastes and your budget. They also allow you to adjust the amount of calories or protein you feed according to your horse’s workload, weight or temperament without affecting vitamin and mineral intake.

A diet for a working horse using a concentrate or balancer pellet might look like this:

1 kg/day of Balancer Pellet
0.5 kg/day Lupins
2 kg/day Oats
Plus chaff, hay and/or pasture

The major disadvantage of feeding in this manner is the time it takes to mix the feed. Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Supplements are fed to meet a horse’s vitamin and mineral requirements and do not contain any appreciable amounts of energy or protein. They have a feeding rate of up to 0.5 kg/day, with most supplements only fed at rates of 20 to 100 g/day, depending on the brand.


Supplements are designed to be fed with grains, legumes and oilseeds, when needed, to make up a complete diet for horses. They may also be fed alone (mixed with a small amount of chaff or some other tasty base so the horses will eat them) to easy keepers when only vitamins and minerals need adding to the diet.

Supplements are also commonly fed with a “complete feed” when the complete feed is being fed at less than the recommended rates to make up any shortfalls in vitamin and mineral intake that may be present.

A diet for a working horse using a concentrate or balancer pellet might look like this:

100 g/day of Vitamin and Mineral Supplement
0.5 kg/day Lupins
1 kg/day Extruded Barley
2 kg/day Oats
35 g/day Salt
Plus chaff, hay and/or pasture

The major advantage of using a supplement‐based diet is the amount of flexibility you have in creating the diet, both from the horse’s perspective and your budget. The major disadvantage is again, the time it takes to source the ingredients and mix up the feeds.

As for other commercial products, not all supplements are created equally. Some will do a very good job of meeting a horse’s requirements while others will do a mediocre job at best. Again, this is where FeedXL can be a big help in working out which do and which do not meet a horse’s requirements. When choosing a supplement, also be conscious of how much they are costing per dose (don’t look at the cost per pound/kilogram).


Depending on your horse and your own personal preferences you will prefer to feed either with complete feeds, concentrates/balancer pellets or supplements.

Complete feeds are simple to feed, provide good variety in the diet and are readily available. However they give you very little flexibility in how much you can feed, as not staying within recommended feeding rates will mean some of your horse’s requirements may not be met.

Concentrates/balancer pellets and supplements give you more flexibility, can be fed alone to easy keepers and allow you to customise your feeding program according to your horse’s tastes and your budget. However, they can make the time taken to mix feed longer and you will often have to source more ingredients.

Regardless of the feeding or mixing method you choose, always balance your horse’s diets. Weigh your horse to get the feeding rates right and so that FeedXL can correctly estimate your horse’s requirements. Only in this way can you be sure that the complete feed, balancer or supplements you choose are working correctly for you and your horse.


Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.


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Feeding for a Brilliant Coat Shine

There is nothing more pleasing to a horse owner’s eye than a brilliant, shiny coat. And aside from looking great, a shiny coat also ususally indicates the horse is healthy inside and out. Question is, how do you make your horse shine? It’s really quite easy if you follow these simple steps.

5 steps to a brilliant coat

1. Feed a balanced diet

Many nutrients including protein, copper, zinc and vitamin A have a direct impact on the health and shine of your horse’s coat. These nutrients, as well as all of the other essential nutrients, must be provided in your horse’s diet at levels that will meet your horse’s requirements.

If you don’t keep your horse healthy on the inside you can’t possibly expect the outside to shine. This is why FeedXL is so good, it makes balancing your horse’s diet for good coat shine simple!

2. Add oils to the diet

If your horse’s diet is low in oils, and in particular, low in the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 it may mean your horse’s coat will be dull. Adding 1/8 to 1/4 of a cup of oil to the diet will help bring shine to the coat.

Various ways you can add oils to the diet include:

  1. Add oilseeds such as sunflower seeds, micronised or extruded full fat soybean, or flax/linseed to the diet.
  2. Add liquid oils to the diet. Almost all oils will have a positive impact on coat shine. Cold pressed flax/linseed oil, canola or soybean oil or any oils that have been fortified with omega fatty acids are particularly effective. Despite low omega fatty acid levels, rice bran oil and coconut oil are also good for coats.
  3. If you use a complete feed, choose one that contains ingredients like full fat soybean, sunflower seeds and cold pressed oils.

If you are feeding grains (which are high in omega 6) in your horse’s ration you should try to use an oil that is low in omega 6 and high in omega 3. For a full list of feed ingredients and their omega 3 and 6 levels, please read our newsletter on Omega 3 for Horses.

3. Feed feeds known to darken coats

It is well known that feeds containing molasses will make a palomino’s coat go ‘smutty’ or dark in colour, while it will bring a deep liver colour out in chestnuts that have the genetics to go that colour. So if you are after a darker coat, try feeding a small amount of molasses (no more than ¼ cup/day for a 500 kg/1100 lb horse). NB Don’t feed molasses to horses who need a diet low in starch and sugars.

Alfalfa/lucerne is also known to darken coats so if you need a darker coat you can try adding some to your horse’s ration.

The minerals copper and zinc are also essential for correct coat color. Making sure your horse’s diet is meeting requirements for these minerals will make sure coat color remains true. If you want a really dark coat you could try supplementing with sensible amounts of additional copper and zinc to see if it helps?

4. Stay on top of worms

Nothing will take the shine off a horse’s coat faster than a heavy worm burden, so be sure to practice good management when it comes to controlling worms. Rotate your pastures, pick up manure where possible, especially if you live in a wet climate, use fecal eggs counts to determine worm burdens and worm when required. Work closely with your veterinarian on this!

5. Brush!

Brushing regularly will remove dead hair from your horse’s coat and will stimulate the horse’s sebaceous glands which release oils that cause the hair to lie flat and shine. A light rug will also have the same effect, so if you don’t have time to brush regularly you may need to throw a light rug on to keep your horse’s coat clean and shiny.

It nearly all comes down to a good diet

I can’t stress enough how important step 1 is. Balance the diet and make sure all of your horse’s nutrient requirements are met. If you build on this foundation, adding the extra touches for an amazing coat shine is simple.


Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.


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Bodyweight Estimation: Which Method Is Best?

Bodyweight estimation—which method is best?

Having an accurate bodyweight for your horse is critical when formulating your horse’s diet. Overestimating your horse’s bodyweight may mean you feed too much, resulting in weight gain and wasted money on feed that is surplus to your horse’s needs. Underestimating could result in underfeeding your horse, possibly causing weight loss and nutrient deficiencies.

How to do it … better!

Weighing your horse on a set of livestock scales is by far the most accurate method of obtaining your horse’s bodyweight. However, few of us have the luxury of a set of scales. Thus we turn to various methods that allow us to estimate our horse’s bodyweight. There are 3 generally well accepted methods for estimating your horse’s bodyweight:

    1. Weight tapes – you place a specially marked tape around your horse’s girth and it gives you an estimated weight.
    2. Height and Condition score – using your horse’s height and body condition score and a published weight table, you can look up your horse’s estimated weight.
    3. Girth and Length measurements – measure your horse’s girth and length from point of the shoulder to point of the buttock and then enter them into the equation:

kg of bodyweight = [ girth (cm)2 x length (cm) ] ÷ 11,880

But how accurate are these methods?

We ran a very small test on the accuracy of the 3 methods and compared them against actual bodyweights of horses here at Equilize Horse Nutrition. Our results showed the following:

Method of Weight Estimation
Horse Actual Bodyweight Weight Tape Height / Condition Score Girth and Length
Poet 475 kg 500 kg 490 kg 468 kg
Quilla 444 kg 500 kg 463 kg 446 kg
Cass 430 kg 460 kg 437 kg 422 kg

The weight tape was the least accurate method, overestimating the weight of these horses by an average of 8.3% (meaning all nutrient requirements will also be overestimated by 8.3%). The Height/Condition Score method was a bit better, only overestimating the weight by 3%. The Girth and Length method is the best, underestimating the bodyweights by an average of 1%.

Take home message…

An accurate bodyweight is essential if you want to balance your horse’s diet correctly. Be very careful when estimating your horse’s bodyweight. If you cannot weigh your horse on livestock scales we recommend you use the Girth and Length method to estimate your horse’s bodyweight as it will give you the closest estimate to your horse’s actual bodyweight. This is the method we use to help you estimate your horse’s bodyweight in FeedXL.


Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.


Click here to join us on our Facebook Page

Why Body Condition Score?

How much should you feed your horse?

Feeding your horse the right amount of feed is important to:

  1. Prevent unwanted weight loss or weight gain
  2. Prevent diseases like colic and gastric ulcers
  3. Prevent unruly, uncontrolled behavior when being ridden

The question is, how do you know how much to feed your horse?

The first golden rule of horse feeding is always feed your horse a minimum of 1.5% of its bodyweight per day of forage. So for a 500 kg horse, the absolute minimum amount of hay, pasture and chaff it should have access to per day is 7.5kg. Your horse should preferably be fed around 2% of its bodyweight per day as forage. Feeding this amount of forage will keep your horse’s gut healthy, keep your horse happy and help prevent colic and gastric ulcers.

The question then is, is this amount of forage enough to maintain your horse’s bodyweight? The only way you can answer this question is by regularly condition scoring your horse. Condition scoring is a practice used to determine the amount of body fat your horse is carrying and will give you an indication over time whether your horse is gaining, holding or losing weight. This in turn helps to fine tune your horse’s diet.

Condition Scoring

Condition scoring of horses involves an assessment of certain parts of a horse’s body for ‘fatness’. The most commonly used sites are the along the neck, along the withers, the loin, tailhead, ribs and behind the shoulder as shown below.

Once an assessment of these areas of the horse’s body is made, a system developed by researchers at the Texas A&M University, USA (Henneke et al. 1983), may be used to assign a ‘score’ to reflect your horse’s level of body fatness. This condition scoring system presents condition scores on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being extremely emaciated and 9 being extremely fat.

Here’s a description of all the body condition scores (with pictures):


Score 1 — Poor

The horse is extremely emaciated. The bone structures of the neck, wither and shoulders are easily visible. The ribs, backbone and tailhead project prominently.








Score 2 — Very Thin

The horse is emaciated. The bone structures of the neck, wither and shoulders are faintly discernable. The structure of the ribs, backbone and tailhead are prominent.






Score 3 — Thin

The structure of the neck, wither and shoulders are accentuated. There is a slight fat cover over the ribs but they remain easy to see. The vertebrae of the backbone are easily discernable and the tailhead is prominent but the bone structure of the tailhead is not obvious.





Score 4 — Moderately Thin

The neck, wither and shoulders are not obviously thin. A faint outline of the ribs is visible, the backbone projects upward slightly and some fat can be felt around the tailhead. The prominence of the tailhead will depend on the horse’s conformation.





Score 5 — Moderate

The neck and shoulders blend smoothly into the body and the withers are rounded. The ribs cannot be seen but are easily felt, the area over the loin is flat and the fat deposited around the tailhead begins to feel spongy.





Score 6 — Moderately Fleshy

Fat is beginning to be deposited along the neck and withers and behind the shoulder. The ribs can still be felt but the fat cover over the ribs feels spongy. There may be a slight crease or gutter down the back and the fat around the tailhead feels soft.





Score 7 — Fleshy

Fat is deposited along the neck, wither and behind the shoulder. Individual ribs can still be felt but there is a noticeable filling of fat between the ribs. There may be a crease or gutter down the back over the loin area and the fat around the tailhead will be soft.





Score 8 — Fat

The neck is noticeably thickened with fat, the area along the wither is filled with fat and the area behind the shoulder is flush with the body. It is difficult to feel the ribs, there will likely be a gutter down the horses back and the fat around the tailhead will feel very soft.





Score 9 — Extremely Fat

The neck, wither and the area behind the shoulders are bulging with fat. Patchy fat can be seen over the ribs, there is an obvious gutter down the centre of the back and the area around the tailhead bulges with fat.

What condition score should your horse be in?

Depending on what your horse is doing, its optimum condition score will be somewhere between a score of 4 and 7. The table below gives you an indication of the best condition score for your horse.

Class of Horse Suggested Condition Score Notes
Growing Horse 5 Higher condition scores indicate that the diet contains too much feed. The increased body weight at a higher condition score will put excess pressure on immature joints and increases the risk of developmental orthopaedic diseases.
Pregnant and/or Lactating Mare 5 – 7 Lower or higher body condition scores can reduce fertility and conception rates and decrease milk production.
Breeding Stallion 5 Lower or higher body condition scores may decrease a stallion’s reproductive performance.
Performance Horse 5 Horses with lower scores will not have sufficient body fat to use as a reserve source of energy during prolonged or frequent physical activity. Horses with higher condition scores will have increased body heat production, reduced body heat loss and higher heart and respiratory rates. All of these factors will reduce performance. Excess weight also increases the strain placed on the skeletal system.
Idle Horse 4 – 6 Will vary depending on the individual horse, climate and season.

If your horse has a lower condition score than it should, you need to feed more. If your horse has a higher condition score than it should have, you need to feed less.

FeedXL helps you to adjust your horse’s diet according to the horse’s body condition score and whether it needs to gain or lose weight, making knowing how much to feed and what to feed to your horse simple.

FeedXL helps you adjust your horses diet to manage its weight

When entering your horse’s details into FeedXL it asks you your horse’s body condition score, if your horse is an easy keeper (gains weight easily), normal keeper or hard keeper (loses weight easily) and if you want your horse to lose, hold or gain weight.

Using the answers to those questions, FeedXL will adjust your horse’s estimated energy (calorie) requirements to help you achieve your horse’s body weight goals. All you need to do is meet these estimated energy requirements with a green bar in FeedXL and then continue to monitor your horse’s condition score to keep track of progress.


Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.


Click here to join us on our Facebook Page