Your horse's energy requirements

Your horse's energy requirements

Energy: it’s something every horse needs to work and perform. But there’s more to it than that. The connection between you and your horse is also a form of energy. At Cavalor, we see energy as a combination of temperament and the energy that a horse needs to work. Learn how to determine energy requirements based on these factors (temperament and work) in this issue of Science Sunday. 

When dealing with a horse’s energy level, the first step is to answer a couple of questions. Are we talking about a horse’s temperament? Is the horse bombproof, calm, or quite sensitive? Breed and age will influence a horse’s temperament, but feed can too. Or are we talking about the horse’s energy supply? Then it’s about needing energy to keep the metabolic processes running.  

Determining a horse’s energy requirement  

Just like us humans, horses need energy to function and perform work. A horse’s basic energy requirement depends on four factors:

1. Breed
2. Age
3. Body weight
4. Physical condition

This is also referred to as the maintenance requirement, and the horse uses it to fulfil all bodily functions. Did you know that temperament also influences energy requirements? A nervous horse needs more energy than a calm one, and therefore will have a higher energy requirement.

Additional energy

Along with their maintenance requirement, some horses need additional energy for the work that they must do. The amount depends on the type and duration of this work. Often, a rider might think that their horse is being trained quite intensively, but the horse often doesn’t find it so bad.   

Every horse is unique 


At Cavalor, we believe that energy requirements cannot be determined alone by the type and duration of exercise. A horse’s temperament has an enormous influence, but that influence cannot be defined simply through a scientific calculation.  Determining the ideal feed ration can therefore be difficult. That’s why we always say that every horse is different. Every horse has unique needs, and your horse’s feed ration must meet its individual needs. The right calculation will help you get the best out of your horse.  

What about special requirements?

Many horses have special requirements. For example, some are prone to stomach and gut ailments, and benefit from an (extra) high-fibre feed. Then there are horses that are under stress and need to relax a little, and horses that are overweight or underweight. And an old horse is naturally fed differently than a young horse. A thorough calculation considering your horse’s special requirements will help you to compose the perfect feed ration.  

The influence of muscle fibre types  

You can well imagine that the different disciplines in equestrian sport have different energy requirements. A show jumper must be able to utilise explosive bursts of energy, whilst a dressage horse needs energy for longer periods. Short, strenuous activities likewise involve quick, short muscle movements. In prolonged work, the muscles work less quickly but must power the horse for longer periods. Both types of muscle contraction are used in every exertion, with faster or slower muscular exertion as the case may be. Here, we differentiate between slow-twitch (type I) and fast-twitch (type II) muscle fibres.  

Type I muscle fibres

Type I muscle fibres are called slow-twitch muscle fibres because they do not contract as quickly. They are used in prolonged endurance work. The horse, which is genetically endowed with more type I muscle fibres, is especially good at long, even exertion. But these muscle fibres not only perform a different task, they also have a different energy source. Type I muscle fibres primarily use fat or glycogen as energy sources.

Type II muscle fibres

This type of muscle fibre is powerful and contracts quickly. They are used for explosive, powerful physical exertion. A horse that is naturally endowed with a high number of type II muscle fibres is better suited for fast, explosive exertion. Type II muscle fibres use glycogen and glucose (sugar and starch) as energy sources. This doesn’t mean that a show jumper needs a different feed than a dressage horse does, but that the nutrient ratio will be different.  

How do you choose the right sources of energy for your horse? In this video, you’ll learn more about the differences between these two types of muscle fibres:

Vitamins and minerals: important partners  

Minerals and vitamins have no role in energy supply, but they are nevertheless important substances in feeds. They ensure energy transport and keeps the energy metabolism running smoothly. Electrolytes (minerals) ensure a healthy water balance and prevent muscle cramps. Did you know that vitamins and minerals are essential to a balanced feed ration? They even determine, for example, the ideal dosage of concentrate feed. In other words, they keep the body running.  

But it’s not just the quantity of minerals that’s important; even more so is that the horse’s intake of different minerals is in the right proportion. The right balance between minerals ensures that all bodily functions run properly. An excess of a particular mineral, for example phosphorus, can also cause a disturbance to the intake of another mineral, for example calcium, which in turn can result in signs of deficiency and lead to problems. 

The importance of B vitamins 

Let’s take a closer at the B vitamins, which are important tools in athletic performance. B vitamins are indispensable for energy supply during work. They act as catalysts for the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.  Imagine it this way: a cell must take in nutrients in order to then convert them into fuel. Between intake and conversion, a chemical process occurs in which the B vitamins are the drivers. Without B vitamins, these processes cannot occur and the horse cannot convert the important nutrients into fuel. First and foremost, a healthy large intestine ensures the production of B vitamins. Sport horses must get additional B vitamins through feed.  

Recommendation from our feed experts: Feed as you need 

We can’t say it often enough: feed as you need. Adjust your horse’s feed according to its requirements. Water and forage form the foundation and are supplemented by concentrate feeds, balancers, or, if needed, complementary feeds. Make sure your horse is getting a balanced feed ration that fully covers his nutritional requirements. Everything must be in sufficient quantity and in the right balance. 

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