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A guide to workload

With the show scene scaling back for a few months, many of us are embarking on the tricky task of amending our horse’s diet to fit his lower workload. Here, we give some guidance on the levels of work and what they each mean in terms of dietary requirements.

Workload assessment

The first step in achieving the correct diet for a horse is to understand his level of work and, therefore, the level of energy he requires. Many of us are guilty of overestimating the work level, and overfeeding our horses, which can be problematic in terms of behaviour and weight gain. Here, we split workload into four categories: maintenance, light, medium and hard.

Maintenance

Horses at the maintenance level include those who don’t participate in any ridden or in-hand activities unless occasionally and for very short periods. These horses typically do well on a high-fibre diet and usually maintain weight well on grass and forage, supplemented by a balancer to meet their mineral and vitamin requirements.

Light work

Horses in light work are typically exercised three to four times per week and may do activities such as light hacking and schooling, mainly in walk and trot with some canter for a maximum of one hour per day. They may also take part in low-level shows.

For most horses in light work, especially good doers prone to weight gain, the energy requirements aren’t much higher than those of maintenance. They should be fed a high-fibre diet alongside a low-energy feed. Depending on the feed chosen, a balancer is likely to be required to meet daily vitamin and mineral requirements.

Medium work

Horses in medium work participate in training sessions for around one hour daily and compete at higher levels in dressage, showjumping and eventing. This work is typically made up of 30% walk, 55% trot and 10% canter, with 5% dedicated to discipline-specific skilled work. These horses usually require a medium-energy diet derived from a combination of energy sources, including fibre, oils, proteins and cereals, to meet their demands.

Hard work

Horses in hard work will be training and competing at the peak of their physical abilities; eventers will be doing longer bursts of faster work in their training, dressage horses will perform more advanced movements, and showjumpers will compete very frequently. Their work sessions are typically made up of 20% walk, 50% trot, 15% canter and 15% gallop or other discipline-specific skilled work. Horses in hard work require a higher energy diet; again, a combination of energy sources will be needed to fulfil their requirements.

Take home message

These descriptions serve as a guide, but there are, of course, other factors to bear in mind besides the length of time and the speeds of the ridden work. For instance, the rider’s weight combined with that of the tack can influence energy expenditure, as will weather conditions and the horse’s age. Before making changes to your horse’s diet, it is therefore advised that you speak to an equine nutritionist and make any changes in consultation with them.