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Do High Sugar Forages Make Horses Fatter?

This is a question we are often asked and my standard response has always been ‘well, it depends on the calorie content of the forage’, which has always then made me wonder about the relationship between forage NSC and digestible energy content.

In looking at 13 pasture samples from one farm it seems the higher the NSC content, the higher the digestible energy (calorie) content. The pastures shown here were all sampled between 11 am and 2 pm on the same day. They were all dried at the same time and all were analyzed by Equi-Analytical.

For interest I plotted the Digestible Energy (calorie) value against the pasture non-structural carbohydrate (NSC = starch + water soluble carbohydrates) content and while this certainly isn’t publishable data the trend is pretty clear for this particular set of pastures in that as NSC increases so does digestible energy… which makes very logical sense given the NSC is a source of calories so the more NSC, the more calories.

So perhaps my answer should be ‘yes, high NSC forages will make your horses fatter faster than low NSC forages!’. And therefore yes, it makes sense to feed a low NSC forage when you are trying to achieve weight loss or avoid weight gain in your easy keepers.

For some tips on feeding an easy keeper see https://feedxl.com/11-feeding-the-easy-keeper/

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How Do You Know if Your Horse is Getting Enough Feed?

Well… happily, this is one of these easiest things to assess in horse nutrition because you can actually SEE if your horse is getting enough feed!

If your horse is getting enough feed he will maintain his weight. If he is not getting enough, he will lose weight. Or if he is getting too much, he will gain weight. Simple huh!

Trick is assessing this consistently so you can adjust how much you are feeding as weight changes. To assess weight gain or loss we use the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System. We have detailed information on using this simple system here: https://feedxl.com/1-why-body-condition-score/

Here’s a neat (and very colorful) little cheat sheet that you might like to keep handy as well  

Get in the habit of running your hands over your horses and mentally assessing condition. You will find in a very short space of time you will start to pick up small changes in body condition that might alert you to the fact your horse may need an adjustment in his feed program.

I am sure if my horses could talk they’d tell you they are never patted, just condition scored ?… lucky they can’t talk huh!

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Who Wants More Muscle? Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the 3 things you need to build muscle; work, to stimulate the muscle to want to grow; leucine, the branch chain amino acid that switches on muscle protein synthesis; and a ready supply of the other amino acids needed to build new muscle.

Which left us with the question of which feed ingredients contain the best source of leucine to help switch on the muscle protein synthesis process. Here are a list of the best ones:

1. Whey protein concentrate. This ingredient contains around 80% crude protein (depending on the brand) and has over 10 grams of leucine per 100 grams. Certainly the richest source of leucine (and all of the other important essential amino acids) you can get. It works, but it is not cheap. If you use whey protein be sure to use it very strategically and feed it to your horse within 15 to 30 minutes of finishing a work session.

2. Soybean. Soybean is well known to be the richest plant source of essential amino acids, including leucine. Soybean meal contains 47% crude protein and will give you 3.5 grams of leucine per 100 grams of meal. Full fat soybean is 36 to 38% crude protein and will give you about 2.7 grams of leucine per 100 gram serve.

3. Brewers Yeast. Brewers yeast is also a handy source of leucine. It contains 50% protein and will give you 3.2 grams of leucine per 100 gram serve. Like whey though, its a relatively expensive option.

Other common feedstuffs and their protein and leucine content are shown in the table below. There are also of course BCAA supplements available (for humans and horses) that can be used. You should be able to find information on these in FeedXL, in the Blue ‘Supplements’ tab, under ‘Protein & Amino Acid Supplements’.

Happy muscle building!!

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Who Wants More Muscle? Part 1

You might need to pay more attention to your branch chain amino acid intake!

Muscle is a beautiful thing, be it on your horse or yourself. It provides strength, power, speed and it looks great. It is also very functional, providing stability and balance and a whole host of really important metabolic functions like the storage and utilization of glucose (which for us humans is very important).

Apparently as a human we build muscle until we are about 30 years old, and then we start to lose it… UNLESS we use it! I am not sure of the statistic for horses with regard to when they might start to lose muscle mass, but we have all watched horses turned out for extended periods of time starting to lose their muscle.

So muscles need work to be maintained or built! BUT, they also need the right building blocks to be able to grow.

Building Blocks of Muscle

Muscle is made from protein. And protein is made from amino acids. So to build muscle, a body needs access to the amino acids it needs to put muscle together. Muscle also needs a signal to start building muscle. In other words muscle protein synthesis needs to be switched on before anything will happen.

Back to the amino acids for a minute… There are 20 amino acids. Ten of them we call non-essential amino acids as our bodies and our horses can make them so we don’t pay these a whole lot of attention in nutrition.

The other 10 we call the essential amino acids and these must be provided in the diet. Within this group of essential amino acids there is a group called the ‘Branch Chain Amino Acids’ or the BCAAs (which include leucine, isoleucine and valine). In human muscle BCAAs make up up to 18% of the amino acids in our muscle protein, making them super important when it comes to building extra muscle mass!

But there is more to this story… research in humans and rodents has found that one of the BCAAS, leucine, has a particularly important role with regards to SWITCHING ON muscle protein synthesis. In fact it appears it is almost singularly responsible for doing this.

There are 3 major things needed in order to build muscle in horses:

1. Work! Muscles won’t grow unless they are given work to do.
2. Leucine. This branch chain amino acid switches on muscle protein synthesis.
3. Plenty of the other amino acids. Between work and leucine, muscles are stimulated to grow. So they then need a ready supply of all the other amino acids they need in order to actually grow.

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Feeding the Easy Keeper

The mistake a lot of us make with an overweight or easy keeper horse is just thinking that we shouldn’t feed it very much at all, and generally feed it a very low quality diet (straw for example) or lock it up so it can’t eat much at all. The problem with doing this is that while you will do a good job of restricting calories and causing weight loss, you will also be severely restricting protein, vitamin and mineral intakes, and in doing that, you are going to cause more health problems than you can imagine.

To feed your ‘easy keeper’ a restricted calorie diet without compromising its health you should do the following:

1. Restrict access to good quality pasture or forage

Because most pastures nowadays are designed to fatten cattle or sheep, they are now more like double chocolate mudcake than high fibre Allbran for horses, meaning horses grazing them will usually become grossly overweight. Thus we need to restrict their access to the pasture. You can do this in one of two ways. First, you can lock your horse up over a night or day period off the pasture or you can put a grazing muzzle on your horse. I like the muzzles as they allow your horse to be out wandering around and interacting with herd mates without having access to massive quantities of feed. It also still allows the horse to have its head down and be chewing all day which helps keep their gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts nice and healthy.

2. Provide access to very low quality hay

Because you are restricting your horse’s forage intake at pasture (or if your horse has no access to pasture) it is essential that you do fill your horse up with a high fibre forage. Suitable forages include weather damaged lucerne hay, cereal crop straw or a very, very mature or weather damaged grass hay like the stalky pasture hay in the photo (be careful to ensure all are mould and contaminant free).Your horse’s intake of pasture will determine how much extra forage you have to feed. Around 2% of your horse’s bodyweight (10 kg for a 500 kg horse) should be the minimum you feed to a horse with no access to pasture. If your horse does have access to pasture you should feed less than that, but the amount really depends on your horse and the quality of your pasture. Use FeedXL to work out how much hay is needed to meet your horse’s feed intake requirement, without overfeeding digestible energy.To extend the amount of time it takes the horse to eat its hay and help prevent boredom, put the hay into 2 or 3 hay nets as this makes it harder for the horse to pull it out and eat, so will keep the horse chewing for a lot longer.

3. Add some high quality protein to the diet

While you need to restrict your horse’s calorie intake (by restricting access to pasture and feeding low quality forage) you need to make sure that you still meet their protein requirements. Failure to meet protein requirements can result in muscle wastage, poor hair coat and terrible hoof quality.Full fat soybean or soybean meal contains the best quality plant protein available. You only need to add a small amount (up to 400 grams per day for a 500 kg horse on a diet of poor quality hay) to help maintain hoof and coat quality and avoid muscle wastage. You can also add a small amount of lucerne hay or chaff to the horse’s diet to add some quality protein.

4. Ensure vitamin and mineral requirements are met

It is essential you do not compromise the overweight horse’s health by restricting vitamin and mineral requirements. Adding a low dose rate vitamin and mineral supplement to an overweight horse’s diet will meet their vitamin and mineral requirements without adding unneeded calories to the diet. You should look for a ‘complete’ vitamin and mineral supplement that is fed at a dose of less than 100 g/day.

5. Oils

Over the years I have found that horses on restricted diets often lack shine in their coats, even though they are on well balanced diets with all their protein, vitamin and mineral requirements met. This is likely due to a lack of oils, and more specifically the omega fatty acids in the poor quality forage diets they are being fed. Adding a 1/4 of a cup of oil that contains both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids (for example canola or soybean oil or commercial oils with added omega 3) to their diet per day will make sure they have their essential omega fatty acid requirements met to keep their skin and coat nice and healthy.

6. Salt

All horses should have constant access to a salt lick and easy keepers are no different. Always make sure your horses can get to salt. It should also go without saying that they must have constant access to clean, fresh water.

An example diet

To give you an idea what a well balanced diet for an overweight horse should look like, the following is an example diet for a 500 kg easy keeper:

  1. Restricted access (either with grazing muzzle or yarded overnight) to average quality pasture.
  2. 2 kg/day (approx 4.5 lb) poor quality meadow hay
  3. Up to 100 g/day (approx 3.5 oz) of a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement
  4. 60 ml/day Canola Oil
  5. 250 g/day (approx 9 oz) good quality lucerne chaff
  6. Free access to salt lick

If the pasture quality was ‘poor’ (dried, brown with seedheads present) some full fat soybean would be used to provide quality protein.

Why bother trying to get the weight off

What we often don’t recognise is that being overweight for a horse carries just as many health problems as it does for humans. In overweight horses we see increased levels of:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Laminitis
  • Increased bone and joint wear and tear
  • Lack of mobility; and
  • Heat stress

It is worth the effort putting together a diet for your overweight horse as he or she will be all the healthier for it. Just giving them poor quality hay or straw or locking them in a tiny dirt paddock is not a solution to weight problems. Remember, you must restrict the calories but provide for all their other nutrient needs, otherwise you will end up with a skinny, but very unhealthy horse!

 

Photo copyright © Nerida Richards – Equilize Horse Nutrition.

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 Weight Gain

7 Simple steps for putting weight on your horse

While many of us struggle to keep weight off our horses (and ourselves!) it seems a large number of horse owners have equal trouble when it comes to putting weight on their horses. Putting weight on, and keeping weight on a horse that is a “hard keeper” can sometimes be a frustrating task for the horse’s owner. But, it needn’t be a difficult thing to do. This article will walk you through the most important things to consider, including the best horse feed for weight gain.

Here are 7 simple steps you should take on the journey to putting weight on your horse:

Step 1: Worms

Make sure your horse is wormed with an effective wormer. If you are not sure which wormer to use ask your veterinarian and make sure that you are worming for Bots as well as Tapeworms at the appropriate times of year.

Step 2: Teeth

Have a qualified dentist correct any issues with your horse’s teeth. If it is painful or difficult for your horse to chew he/she just physically won’t be able to consume the amount of feed needed to gain weight.

Step 3: Health

Ask your veterinarian to carry out a full health check to make sure there is no underlying disease like gastric ulcers (which will be common in off the track or spelling thoroughbreds) that are going to prevent the horse from eating and gaining weight. If you do discover your horse has a problem with ulcers have them treated with appropriate medications. Likewise if any other disease conditions are found work with your veterinarian to resolve them.

Please note that if your horse is emaciated and has come from a starvation situation you should follow the guidelines published by the American Association of Equine Practitioners for caring for starved/emaciated horses. Introducing feeds too quickly into the diets of these horses can result in ‘refeeding syndrome’ and death. The guidelines can be found here: http://www.aaep.org/pdfs/rescue_retirement_guidelines.pdf.

Step 4: Free choice forage

Weight gain occurs when the amount of calories provided in the horse’s diet exceeds the amount of calories the horse ‘needs’ on a daily basis – the excess calories are stored by the horse and thus contribute to weight gain. Many horses have problems gaining weight simply because they aren’t being fed enough to gain weight.

After addressing worms, teeth and health, the most important feeding step when you want a horse to gain weight is to provide as much pasture or grass/meadow hay as the horse can eat. You can do this by either giving your horse 24 hour access to pasture or by feeding just enough hay that a little is left over each day. If you can devise a way to feed the hay at ground level without the horse walking all over it will mean the left over hay isn’t wasted. If you can’t find grass/meadow hay, oaten hay is a suitable substitute.

Step 5: Lucerne (alfalfa)

Feed lucerne hay. Lucerne (known as alfalfa in North America) is a high energy forage and makes a valuable contribution to raising a horse’s calorie intake above their daily requirement to encourage weight gain. Lucerne will also provide your horse with good quality protein which will facilitate muscle development. This is particularly important if your horse suffered muscle wastage at the time that weight loss occurred.

It is difficult to make a recommendation as to exactly how much lucerne should be fed as each horse’s requirement will vary depending on the degree of weight gain required, their temperament (as occasionally lucerne hay will cause behavioural changes in some horses) and the quality of grass/meadow hay being fed. Between 0.5 kg and 1 kg of lucerne hay per 100 kg body weight per day is a good place to start.

Step 6: High energy feeds

Add high energy feedstuffs to your horse’s diet. If the desired rate of weight gain is not achieved after implementing the steps above, your horse still requires additional calories over and above that provided by the pasture and hay being fed. To increase your horse’s calorie intake even further you now have three high energy feed options to consider adding to your horse’s diet. These are:

  1. High energy fibres—including soybean hulls, copra meal and sugarbeet pulp. These feedstuffs are similar to pasture and hay, however the fibre they contain is more readily digested by the bacteria in the hindgut meaning they contain a similar amount of calories as cereal grains. These feeds are particularly well suited to horses that become excitable and hyperactive when fed grain based feeds.
  2. Cereal grains and grain based feeds—cereal grains are well known as being high energy feeds and are useful in the diet of horses that need to gain weight. However some grains and grain based feeds are more suitable than others from a weight gain perspective. When selecting grains to feed to encourage weight gain it is critical that the starch within the grain (which is the high energy component) is digested in the small intestine.Grains that are digested in the small intestine will provide your horse with more calories (and therefore more weight gain). Grains will also ensure your horse avoids problems with hindgut acidosis which can cause laminitis and will also reduce the amount of energy your horse can extract from its pasture and hay. To ensure the starch is digested in the small intestine, select grains or grain based feeds that have been cooked (such as via extrusion process Pryde’s use). Cereal grains should not be used in the diets of horses with Cushing’s disease or those susceptible to laminitis.
  3. High fat feeds or oils—high fat feeds and oils are the highest energy feedstuffs you can give a horse. Fats and oils hold two major advantages over high energy fibrous feeds and cereal grains. The first is they are energy dense – for example 1 cup of vegetable oil contains as many calories as 1.2 kg of oaten chaff. This has obvious advantages for finicky or small horses that won’t eat large meals. The second advantage of high fat feeds and oils is they don’t tend to make a horse as hyperactive as the same quantity of energy supplied in the form of cereal grains. In addition they do not carry the risks of digestive upsets that accompany cereal grains. High fat feeds include rice bran and rice bran based feeds, copra meal, and any of the full fat oilseeds such as soybean and sunflower.

The ‘correct’ balance of these feeds is going to depend on your individual horse. (Hint: that’s where FeedXL comes in!)

Step 7: Balanced diet

Make sure the diet is balanced—if your horse’s diet is unbalanced from a protein, vitamin and mineral perspective it is likely that this will prevent your horse from gaining weight, regardless of how much you are feeding it. Using the FeedXL nutrition software will make sure your horse’s diet is balanced and that there are no deficiencies which may be preventing weight gain. If you’re not already a member, click here to learn more about our plans.

A warning about “Weight Gain” diets

Unfortunately when we start feeding our horses a well balanced diet with calories in excess of their requirements, they tend to try and find gainful employment for all their new found energy which often results in unruly, undisciplined and at times dangerous behaviour when we ride them.

The question then is, how do you feed your horse for weight gain without having them trying to kill you when you ride them? The answer to this million dollar question is … you can’t, unless your horse is well disciplined to begin with. If you own a horse that you can only just control when it is not being fed for weight gain, then you should not expect that you will be able to feed it gross amounts of feed to encourage weight gain AND still ride it safely, because it is just not going to happen. The golden rule is education first, feeding for weight gain second. The exception to this rule is when you have an emaciated horse that needs to be fed to gain weight before you can begin riding it.

You may still find that a well educated horse becomes a little more difficult to handle when being fed a high energy weight gain diet. In this case, altering the types of feeds you are using may help. The high energy fibrous feeds and high fat feeds and oils tend to have the ability to promote weight gain without having as much effect on their behaviour. But this isn’t always the case so you still need to be careful.

When will your horse start gaining weight?

You should not expect that your horse will instantly begin to gain weight once you have placed him on a ‘weight gain diet’. Some horses and particularly those who have come from an emaciated state will have internal damage caused by weight loss that they must repair before visible weight gain will occur. Even if this is not the case visible weight gain may take weeks to appear. In short, make sure your horse is healthy, develop and feed a well balanced diet using your preferred ingredients, don’t skimp on feeding hay and be patient.

 

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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Building Topline

It doesn’t matter which equine discipline you are involved in, building and maintaining a strong topline on your horse is important. Strong toplines attract judges or buyers and also help ensure the horse’s back remains strong and healthy.

While work and correct muscle conditioning play a huge role in developing and maintaining topline, nutrition plays an equally important role. To build topline you need to provide the right nutrients. Here are some tips on feeding for topline.

5 Tips for Building Topline in your horse


1. Feed enough energy (calories) for the work your horse is doing

Underfeeding means your horse will need to dip into its stored energy reserves to fuel the muscles for work. Horses will quite quickly break down their topline to use it for fuel if they are underfed.

2. Feed high quality protein

To build topline you must provide the building blocks your horse needs to make muscle. Using feeds with protein provided by soybeans, lupins, faba bean or canola meal will give your horse access to good quality sources of protein, which builds muscle. Feeds with one or more of these protein sources are best.

Avoid feeds containing cottonseed meal as the protein source. Cottonseed is a poor source of protein that is deficient in the most important amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of protein).

Feeding some lucerne hay will also contribute good quality protein to the diet.

3. Use top-up feeds designed to build top-line

Feeds such as KER Equi-Jewel and Pryde’s ReBuild are based on rice bran and are designed to provide extra calories and protein to help build topline. You can also use whey protein isolate or soy protein isolates.

4. Feed a balanced diet

Once again it really is so important to ensure your horse’s diet is meeting all of its nutrient requirements as any deficiency will stop your horse from reaching its potential and this includes its potential for building topline. Also, minerals like zinc are needed to effectively build muscle; failing to provide these nutrients will inhibit muscle growth, no matter how well the horse is being worked and fed with quality protein.

Again, this is where FeedXL is so useful; knowing that you are feeding a balanced diet that does meet your horse’s nutrient requirements.

5. Avoid or treat back injuries

Use properly fitted saddles at all times and quickly treat any back injuries that may occur. A horse with a sore back will avoid using its back muscles correctly, in turn preventing it from building a strong topline.

Feeding a good diet with quality protein, in conjunction with exercise aimed at strengthening the topline should give you noticeable results in 4 to 8 weeks.

 

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.

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS?

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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.

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