How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings

Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is an objective system of evaluating a horse’s level of body condition (amount of stored fat) and assessing a numeric score to facilitate comparisons between horses. Many owners fail to recognize significant variations in the weight of horses or variations due to age and breed types. This often results in overfeeding or underfeeding.

Figure 1. Diagram of Areas Emphasized in Condition Score (Adapted from Henneke 1981, Texas A&M)

Body condition scoring involves the palpation and visual assessment of the degrees of fatness of various areas of the horse, such as: over the ribs, tailhead area, neck and withers, and behind the shoulders. (Figure 1.) Fat reserves in these areas depend on the balance between energy intake and energy loss, for various activities.

If there is a negative energy balance (energy loss greater than energy intake), then weight, and subsequent body condition, will be lost. This energy balance depends on such factors as: availability of food and water, weather (e.g., ambient temperature and wind chill), reproductive activity (e.g., pregnancy, lactation) and physical activity demands for growth and health status. A positive energy balance (energy expenditure less than energy intake) will result in a horse adding fat and muscle and improving body condition.

Body Condition Scoring

The body condition score system described here is mainly based on the system described by Carroll and Huntington (1988)(1). Palpation and visual inspection of the ribs, tailhead area, neck and withers, and behind the shoulders, facilitates the comparison of horses with differing amounts of stored body fat, independent of body size or breed of horse.

Figure 2 shows the profile lines for the various body condition scores. The profile of BCS 0 and 1 follow the anatomical skeleton and describe stages of emaciation and extremely thin respectively. A score of 3 has a smooth appearance to the skeletal structure and represents a horse in optimum body condition for maintenance and is neither gaining nor losing weight. Horses scoring 3+ to 4 have a rounded appearance to their skeletal structure. They are in above average flesh but this should not impair their reproductive ability, especially if they are being maintained in outdoor housing during the winter.

A long hair coat can be misleading. Some conformational differences make it difficult to apply certain criteria to a specific animal. For example, animals with prominent withers, or flat across the back and mares heavy in foal (weight of the foal pulls skin taut over the ribs) may cause body condition scores to be lower than they actually are. However, when properly applied, the scoring system is independent of size or conformation of the horse.

Figure 2. Lumbar Vertebra-Anterior View Indicating Profile Lines for Each Body Condition Score

How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings

Figure 3. Body Condition Scoring (adapted from Carroll C.L. and Huntington P.J., Body Condition Scoring and Weight Estimation of Horses)

When evaluating animals, there will be an animal-to-animal variation; thus the use of the terms "easy-keeper" and "hard-keeper". Easy-keepers include any of the individuals of the draft breeds, ponies and quarter horses. They also include the dominant animals in a herd situation. Hard-keepers include many of the individuals of the following breeds: Arabian, thoroughbred and gaited horses. Hard-keepers will also include the shy individuals who are lower on the pecking order in a herd situation. Table 1 summarizes the various body condition scores, while Figure 3 depicts the changes in body appearance.

Table 1. Descriptions of Anatomical Differences Between Body Condition Scores

Condition Neck Withers Back & Loin Ribs Hind Quarters
0 Very thin bone structure easily felt- no muscle shelf where neck meets shoulder bone structure easily felt 3 points of vertebrae easily felt (see Figure 2) each rib can be easily felt tailhead and hip bones projecting
1 Thin can feel bone structure- slight shelf where neck meets shoulder can feel bone structure spinous process can be easily felttransverse processes have slight fat covering slight fat covering, but can still be felt can feel hip bones
2 Fair fat covering over bone structure fat deposits over withers – dependent on conformation fat over spinous processes can’t see ribs, but ribs can still be felt hip bones covered with fat
3 Good neck flows smoothly into shoulder neck rounds out withers back is level layer of fat over ribs can’t feel hip bones
4 Fat fat deposited along neck fat padded around withers positive crease along back fat spongy over and between ribs can’t feel hip bones
5 Very fat bulging fat bulging fat deep positive crease pockets of fat pockets of fat

As a guide to learning the scoring system and interpreting the results, examples of "typical" condition scores are listed below. There will be a range of condition within each score so it is sometimes convenient to assign +’s and -‘s or half point scores as in 2.5 or 3.5.

How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings

Much like their human counterparts, many of today’s horses are working less and eating more (both in quantity and type of food), and as a result they are becoming fat. Obesity is a serious emerging problem in the domestic horse. Obesity involves serious disease implications as well as the more obvious problem of reduced athletic ability.

How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings

How do I know if my horse is obese?

It can be difficult to accept that your horse is too fat. The simplest way to evaluate the condition of your horse is to perform a body score estimation. This is a less objective method than combining an accurate bodyweight with the height of the horse. The former takes no account of the latter but the latter may be more difficult to interpret because some horses are naturally heavy and so breed should also be considered. Currently, there are no defined methods for calculating the “correct weight for a particular horse”, so body condition scoring is widely used.

Body condition scoring

Body condition scoring involves the careful examination of a horse in key body regions. Usually a scale of body condition is used. There are several popular methods. This is a pity because a single easily understood method that allowed for subtle variations would help everyone to understand the scale. Currently there are scales that use 1-5, 1-9 and 1-10. Whenever a body condition score is used the relevant scale should be mentioned to avoid any ambiguity.

Assessing your horse’s body condition

The covering of the rib cage roughly in the middle of the horse’s side is a good first site to assess. If the ribs can only be felt by pressing hard or they cannot be felt at all, your horse is likely to be overweight. The middle of the back is also used and it is best assessed by palpation/feeling. If the spinous processes cannot be felt and if there is a hollow in the midline then your horse is probably overweight. Keep an eye out for fat deposits through the neck and the crest and along the rump and tail-head. Hard lumpy tissue in these areas is especially troublesome and is an indication of obesity as well as an indicator of risk for obesity-associated diseases such as laminitis.

Why is it so important that my horse doesn’t become obese?

The importance of obesity lies in the metabolic consequences on the health of your horse. Many grossly overweight horses look very well – the coat is shiny and they are often “winners” in show classes. Of course the former is good but when obesity is a pre-requisite for winning a show class or attracting a good price at a sale then the long-term health of the horse is surely being sacrificed for financial gain.

Obesity has consequences on performance that are usually easily understood – although they are often overlooked. No matter how shiny your horse’s coat is, if he is fat, he will perform less well than a fit horse carrying only enough weight to ensure his own health! Overweight horses are less efficient athletes. Often, in a desire to present a full, rounded horse in the show ring, some heavy horse breeds are being overfed to compensate for inadequate conditioning which leads to exercise intolerance and increased stress on soft tissue support structures. Injuries are more common in the short-term and arthritis is often the long-term outcome.

Overweight horses have increased body mass and alterations in blood flow. These factors lead to an increased need for oxygen, especially during exercise, but overweight horses have more difficulty taking in oxygen because their increased body mass restricts chest wall motion. Heart problems can reasonably be expected, although there is no scientific evidence for this as yet.

The increased fat layer also makes thermoregulation more difficult and fat horses are more prone to overheating during hot summer months. Increased heart rate, due to blood flow restrictions, and increased respiratory rate, due to elevated oxygen need, can cause increased levels of blood lactate, which can lead to tying up or exertional myopathy. Additionally, increased fat storage in the liver can decrease this organ’s functional ability. Obesity decreases immune system function and can make some horses more susceptible to certain diseases.

Overweight mares are more infertile than mares in good condition. Also, high fat scores have been associated with increased duration of pregnancy, increased placental weight and decreased milk production. An unfit fat mare is likely to have greater difficulty with foaling than a slimmer fit mare.

Links between obesity (even when this is for a relatively short duration in the life of a horse) and certain metabolic diseases are being investigated worldwide. Scientific studies are beginning to probe fat associated problems in horses but the current thinking is that equine obesity is itself a potential cause or factor in some of the most difficult diseases of horses and that treating obesity may be as important as any other treatments that your vet can offer. The main thrust of the research effort is related to the suggested link between laminitis and obesity. Many owners will recognize that the fat under-exercised pony is a strong candidate for laminitis.

Obesity has also been linked with alteration of the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and the resultant condition known as Peripheral Cushing’s Disease or Obesity-related Metabolic Disease. The resultant clinical effects include laminitis that develops in horses that are not necessarily fat or obese at the time. However, previous obesity may be a significant factor.

Although mismanagement is a common cause of obesity, it is not always involved – certain breeds and types have a tendency to become fat during the summer months and these may be much more difficult to manage. Many owners will recognize the “good-doer” – the horse that lays down fat in spite of a very sparse diet but even then suitable dietary changes can be used to provide a diet that is nutritionally sound but restricts the fat deposition.

Note that these are meant as a guide only and normal animals can vary outside these ranges; they should be used as part of a full physical examination, and interpretations made in conjunction with other significant findings.


Normal temperature

Adults & foals: 37.5 – 38.6° C (99.5 to 101.5°F )

Environmental factors can affect the readings by 0.5 – 1° C/F, with horses tending to have higher temperatures in warm weather. Exercise, stress or excitement will raise temperature as well.

Taking temperature. The best way to take the horse’s temperature is rectally. Ensure the thermometer is well lubricated prior to inserting it. Stand next to the hind limb, pull the tail towards you and slide the thermometer in the rectum. Direct the tip to one side, so as to gently press it against the rectal wall in order to avoid faecal balls as these could give a false reading. Allow 2-3 minutes for the thermometer to record the temperature, to get the most accurate reading.

Heart rate (HR)

Normal resting heart rate in Beats per minute (bpm)

Adult: 38 – 40 bpm

2 years old: 40 – 50 bpm

Yearlings: 45 – 60 bpm

Foals: 70 – 120 bpm


Maximum heart rates can exceed 180 beats per minute during strenuous exercise, but higher rates (tachycardia) of above 60-80bpm is a sign of cardiovascular compromise.

Reasons for this may be: stress, fear, pain and excitement (although the increase in HR will only be transient) or haemorrhage, peripheral pooling, severe infections (septicaemias), strangulations and infarcts of organs/tissues.

The most common cause of elevated resting heart rate is colic or intestinal pain. Such pain can cause mild to severe elevations, and the degree of increase can be a sign of the severity of the colic.

Auscultation. The HR can be taken with a stethoscope placed over the cardiac region (located behind the point of the elbow) or by feeling for a pulse (taken from the area under the jaw, from beneath the tail bone, or from the fetlock area at the level of the sesamoid bones)

Respiratory rate (RR)

Normal respiratory rate in respirations per minute (rpm)

Adult: 8 – 15 rpm

Neonatal foal: 20 – 40 rpm

Newborn foal: 60 – 80 rpm

A horse’s respiration rate increases with hot or humid weather, exercise, fever, pain or when there are underlying infectious/inflammatory conditions causing the horse to reduce the depth of each breath, and thus increase the speed (tachypnoea). As a rule of thumb, the respiration rate should NEVER exceed the pulse rate. A horse should also spend equal time inhaling and exhaling. You should wait for the horse to be calm or at least 30 minutes after exercise, before checking the respiratory rate at rest to obtain a true reading.

Auscultation. The respiration rate can be calculated watching the belly of the horse rise and fall, or by placing the stethoscope over the trachea or a hand over the nostrils.

Body condition score

This is a visual tool which can help assess both the amount of fat and muscle of a horse, and can be used in conjunction with weights or weigh tapes, or as a single estimation when these are not accessible.

There are two recognised scales of visual assessment of Body Condition Scoring. The UK system uses a 1-5 scale (with 1 being emaciated and 5 overweight) while the American system (based on Henneke et al 1983) grades horses 1-9, giving the assessor greater flexibility and detail for the score given.

The neck, ribs and rump need to be looked at and felt in order to assess the horse’s overall condition and level of body fat which provides an indication of the calorie intake and expenditure of the horse in question.

As a guide, a Body Condition Score of less than 4 would indicate that the horse’s minimum calorie requirements are not being met by its diet, whilst one of more than 6 would indicate that its diet is supplying more calories than the horse requires.

Body condition influences everything in your horse’s life, from reproductive efficiency, to performance, to good health. By using Body Condition Scoring, you can find out what kind of shape your horse is in, and work to improve the score. Scoring focuses on critical areas of the body, based on palpable fat and visual appearance.

Ideal Scores
Most horses, including performance horses and growing horses, should be in a body score of 5-6. For optimum reproductive efficiency, broodmares should be a 5-7, and not allowed to lose condition such that they are below a 5 during breeding season. Horses over a condition score of 7 may be at a greater risk for developing metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance.

How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings

A. Along the Neck

B. Along the withers

C. Crease down back

F. Behind shoulder

1. Poor
Extremely emaciated. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, hip joints, and lower pelvic bones project prominently; bone in withers, shoulders and neck are easily noticed. No fatty tissue can be felt.

2. Very Thin
Emaciated. Slight fat covers base of spinous processes, transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, hip joints, and lower pelvic bones are prominent. Withers, shoulders and neck structure faintly discernable.

3. Thin
Fat buildup about halfway on spinous processes. Transverse processes cannot be felt. Slight fat covers ribs. Spinous processes and ribs easily discernable; tailhead prominent but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually. Hip joints appear rounded but easily discernable; lower pelvic bones not distinguishable. Withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.

4. Moderately Thin
Slight ridge along back. Faint outline of ribs discernable. Tailhead prominence depends on conformation, but fat can be felt around it. Hip joints not discernable. Withers, shoulders and neck not obviously thin.

5. Moderate
Back is flat; ribs easily felt, but not visually distinguishable. Fat around tailhead feels a bit spongy. Withers round over spinous processes; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

6. Moderately Fleshy
May have slight crease down back. Fat over ribs spongy; fat around tailhead soft. Small fat deposits behind shoulders and along sides of neck and withers.

7. Fleshy
Might have slight crease down back. Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat. Fat around tailhead soft; fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders and along neck.

8. Fat
Crease down back. Difficult to feel ribs. Fat around tailhead very soft; area along withers filled with fat. Area behind shoulder filled with fat, noticeable thickening of neck. Fat deposited along inner thighs.

9. Extremely Fat
Obvious crease down back. Patchy fat appears over ribs. Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. Fat along inner thighs may rub together. Flank filled with fat.

Click here for a demonstration on how to body condition score your horse with Purina Equine Nutritionist, Dr. Katie Young.

Through membership of XLVets Equine, the practice is able to offer our clients access to XLVets’ database of equine specific factsheets. Below, you will find their complete list of factsheets ordered in alpahabetical order with PDF downloads available for all.

The factsheets are intended for ‘further reading’ and if you are concerned about your horse, we recommend to call us on 01908 560789 or send us an online enquiry.

How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings


Azoturia / Tying Up

Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (ERM) is also known as Azoturia, Tying-up, Set-Fast and Monday Morning Disease. ERM is a disturbance of the normal functioning of the muscles in the horse that causes painful cramps and muscle damage. ERM is most often seen when there is an imbalance between exercise and feeding, for example maintaining a high energy diet while suddenly reducing the exercise levels. In some cases, it is caused by a genetic disease: polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM).

Basic Farriery and Foot Balance

The modern horse we know today has evolved over millions of years, surviving quite happily without human intervention with regards to hoof maintenance. In a natural environment, horses graze varied terrain, wearing away the excess hoof growth to keep the hoof at a constant length without the need for trimming or shoeing. Horses are now bred for performance and the way in which the modern equine is maintained and managed means that hoof care and maintenance is very important in ensuring soundness and performance. A well balanced foot will be symmetrical in size and shape and land flat on the ground.

Blood testing

Analysis of blood has long been a standard part of the investigation of a large number of illnesses, diseases and injuries. The number of available tests, along with their accuracy, is continuously expanding, as researchers and laboratories endeavour to make ever greater use of blood testing as a diagnostic tool. The procedure is generally very safe and welltolerated by most horses and the results can yield important information about the health of a patient. Along with aiding in the diagnosis of disease, blood testing has a number of other uses, as described below.

Body Condition Scoring the Donkey

Body condition scoring (BCS) is important as it provides an early indication of under or over nourished donkeys. Condition scoring in the donkey is different to their close relatives, the horse, because fat is stored in different locations on the body. Visual appearance can be deceptive and therefore a more hands-on approach is required, it is also important to be aware that woolly coats can mask the true BCS.

Bog Spavin

Bog spavin is fluid distension of the high mobility joint in the hock called the tibiotarsal or tarsocrural joint. The swelling can be seen and felt at the two superficial outpouchings of the joint capsule; at the front towards the inside and on the outside just below and infront of the point of hock. If one swelling is compressed this usually causes the other swelling to enlarge temporarily and vice versa. Bog spavin can occur in one or both hind legs.

How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings

Horse breeding requires a significant investment of time, effort, and money. To get the best return on your investment, it’s important to provide your broodmares and foals with high quality nutrition. Paying careful attention to your feeding program will ensure that your youngsters get started off on the right hoof!

Monitor Body Condition
Your horse’s body condition score (BCS) is a simple, easily observed indication of whether she is eating too many, too few, or just the right number of calories. The Henneke Body Condition Scoring scale rates the amount of fat on a horse from 1 to 9, with 1 indicating an emaciated horse and 9 indicating a horse that is extremely fat. Broodmares should ideally be maintained at a BCS of 5-6. This means that the withers, spine, and hip bones should be slightly rounded, and the mare’s ribs should be felt but not seen. Growing horses, on the other hand, should be kept slightly thinner, at a BSC of 4-5; the last 2-3 ribs may be just visible. While carrying a bit of extra weight may improve a mare’s fertility, too much weight on a growing skeleton may predispose a young horse to developmental orthopedic disorders such as physitis and osteochondrosis.

Protein: Quantity and Quality
Broodmares and young horses require protein for building healthy body tissues. When looking at the protein content of your horse’s diet, it’s important to pay attention to both quantity and quality. The first of these, quantity, is usually fairly easy to meet through providing ample forage (pasture or hay). However, you must ensure that the protein being provided is of sufficient quality, which means that it contains the correct balance of amino acids to support growth. Alfalfa and soybean meal are two common high-quality protein sources used in equine rations. Lysine and methionine are two amino acids that are commonly deficient in equine diets. Feeds designed for breeding and growing animals will be higher in these important nutrients when compared to feeds designed for mature, non-breeding horses.

When you think about minerals needed for growth, calcium and phosphorous probably come to mind immediately. These two minerals are critical for skeletal health, and it is important that they are provided in the correct ratio (2:1 Ca:P) for optimal growth. There are other minerals, however, that are also critical in growing horses. Magnesium, copper, and zinc are also necessary for healthy growth and development. These minerals, particularly copper and zinc, tend to be found at very low levels in forages, so it is important that they are provided in the horse’s feed.

Choosing a Feed
Now that we’ve discussed some of the nutrients that are important in broodmare and foal diets, you’re probably wondering how to supply them. Pinnacle Mare & Foal (item #331CO) is specifically designed to meet the nutrient needs of broodmares and young, growing horses. If you prefer to feed a pelleted product, then Pinnacle 1400 (item #321PE) is also an excellent choice. With either of these products, it is important to follow the feeding instructions on the bag to ensure that you are meeting your horse’s protein, mineral, and vitamin requirements. What if your mare and/or foal is an easy keeper and can’t consume the recommended amount of 331 or 321? In that case, Pinnacle Balancer (item #336PE) can be fed to meet these requirements while providing fewer calories.

Providing a high quality and balanced diet is critical for healthy growth and development of your broodmares and foals. Your local Co-op offers a complete line of equine feeds to help you meet these needs.

As the winter season approaches, it is time to evaluate your horse’s body condition score. It is important to make sure your horse begins winter in the best condition possible. If your horse has special needs it may be necessary to alter your feeding program during the winter months.

What is the ideal body condition score?

In general, a body condition score of 5 is considered good, but there are some cases where a leaner or fatter condition may be desirable. Studies have shown that broodmares with a higher score had higher conception rates than mares with a lower score. With older horses it may be more beneficial if the horse has a higher score to create a buffer for times of stress and illness. However, if your older horse suffers from arthritis or laminitis he or she may do better without extra weight. Performance horses can vary in range depending on the discipline. Polo, eventing, race, and endurance horses might be fit with a lower body condition score of 4, while a dressage, hunter, or jumper may be fit with a score of 6.

It is important to work with your veterinarian and trainer to determine the best body condition score for your individual horse.

Article written by KPP staff.

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Conditions of Entry: Open to horses registered in any WAHO (World of Arabian Horse Organisation) recognised Studbook by the closing date of entries.

Qualification: All horses except yearlings should have qualified at an ECAHO affiliated show after 2016, in one of the following ways:

  • Gold, Silver or Bronze medal winner or Class winner (Top 5) at a Title Show or an A or B (Intl or Nat) Championship
  • Gold, Silver or Bronze medal winner or Class winner (Top 3) at a C Intl or National Championship
  • Gold, Silver or Bronze medal winner at a C Nat, Specific Origin or D Regional Championship
  • Champion, Reserve Champion or Class winner (Top 3) at a Title Show or an A, B or National Championship Horses registered in countries, which are not Members of ECAHO, must qualify either at an ECAHO affiliated show or at another show accepted by the EAHSC, such as Gold, Silver or Bronze Medal Winners, Champion or Reserve Champion at the US National Championships, the US Regional Championships, the Las Vegas Show or the Scottsdale Show.

Yearlings must be qualified in any foal classes in any shows. Yearlings must be weaned and they may not be shown with less than 6 months of age.

Ownership registration of the horses participating from Qatar must be at least six months prior to the date of show.

A penalty of QR.5000/- (Qatar Riyals Five Thousand Only) will be imposed on any owner who withdraws their horse after registration within 10days prior to the show without a valid medical reason.

Championships: Yearling males, Yearling females, Junior males, Junior females, Senior males and Senior females.

Classes: Age groups are determined by date of birth, with the year starting on 01st October and ending on 30 th September for the Junior Classes (Fillies and Colts as per the Middle East breeding season) and starting 1st January and ending on 31st December for the Senior Classes (Mares and Stallions). The Organising Committee reserves the right to limit the total number of Entries per exhibitor and per class. (Details will be specified in the Show Schedule).

Class Splitting will be based according to the age.

QREC has the right to accept / reject the application or stop the entry forms at any case.

How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings

While knowing your horse’s weight is critical to making sure your horse is receiving the care it needs, tracking your horse’s Body Condition Score over time is an ideal (and easier) way to make sure your horse is doing as well as you want him to.

Developed through extensive research by Texas A&M, the Body Condition Score (BCS) is measured on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being “Poor” and 9 being “Extremely Fat”. Click here to download a chart describing each of the scores, along with a tracking form for your use.

You can easily determine your horse’s BCS by looking at the amount of fat deposited in six key areas of your horse’s body:

  1. Along the neck
  2. Along the withers
  3. Crease along the back
  4. Over the ribs
  5. Behind the shoulder
  6. Over the tailhead

As a general rule of thumb, growing and performance horses, as well as general-use horses, should be kept at a BCS of 4-7, with a 5 being “ideal”. Broodmares should generally be kept at a 5.5-7.5.

Learning how to assign a Body Condition Score may take a little practice, and what you call a 4.5 might be a 5 to your neighbor, but what is most important to your own herd is that you assign scores to each horse, then track them over time to ensure that everyone is receiving all the care they need.

For your reference, here is a quick “how-to” video:

11 Replies to “How to track your horse’s Body Condition Score”

Could you post some pics for visual assistance of the different BCS’s? THANKS in advance.

God Bless

Hi Sherry – Great question! Yes, we can do that. I’ll try to get them up in the next day or so.

How to do condition scoring for horse yearlings

Equine animals (horses, ponies, donkeys, mules, and even zebras) can use forages such as pasture/range grasses and legumes, preserved hays, and other forage-based feeds as the major or sole sources of nutrition due to fermentation in the cecum and large colon. However, enzymatic digestion of carbohydrates, protein, and fats is also of major importance. This occurs in the small intestine, which is the primary site of absorption of sugars, amino acids, long-chain fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. Any of the nutrient sources that escape small intestinal digestion and absorption are passed on for microbial degradation in the large intestine, where byproducts of microbial fermentation, such as volatile fatty acids, amino acids, and vitamins, are absorbed. Fermentation is altered by the type of substrates available as well as by body temperature and pH.

Traditionally, it has been stated that a good source of roughage should comprise at least 50% of the total equine ration by dry-matter weight. Current recommendations are that horses receive at least 1.5%–2% on a dry-matter basis of their body weight in forages daily. This can include pasture or range grasses, legumes, or preserved forages such as hay, haylage, forage substitute (eg, hay cubes, hay-based pellets, beet pulp), or other high-fiber sources. The average maximum daily dry matter intake by equine animals is usually 2.5%–3% body weight (although some breeds and age groups, notably ponies and weanlings, can exceed those maximums by 0.5% –1%.). These intake limitations should be considered when calculating rations for equine animals.


Water requirements vary with environmental conditions, amount of work or physical activity being performed (ie, water lost through sweating), type and amount of feed (dry feeds need more than succulent grasses), and physiologic status of the animal. The average minimal maintenance daily water requirement of a sedentary adult horse in a thermoneutral environment is 5 L/100 kg body weight/day. However a 500-kg adult horse in minimal work will typically drink 21–29 L of water per day when fed a mixed hay/grain ration and/or pasture grasses. If fed only dry hay, water intake may almost double. Lactation or sweat losses also increase the needs by 50%–200%. A 500-kg horse exercising for 1 hour in a hot environment may need to drink more than 72 L of water to replace sweat and evaporative losses. Lactating mares need 12–14 L per 100 kg body weight to sustain good health and milk production.

Unlimited free access to clean water is usually recommended, although horses can adapt to only periodic access (2 or 3 times a day) if the amounts offered during the watering sessions are not limited. However, limited access should be introduced slowly to allow behavioral adaptation. They can learn to drink more if access times are limited.

Inadequate water access will reduce feed intake and increase the incidence of impaction colic, anhidrosis, and other metabolic disorders. Lack of water access for more than a few days may result in death.


Energy requirements (expressed as Mcal digestible energy for horses) are different for maintenance, growth, pregnancy, lactation, and work. Equations to estimate energy requirements at any state of performance or production have been derived primarily from studies of light horse breeds (See table: Estimated Daily Major Nutrient Requirements of Growing Horses and Ponies Estimated Daily Major Nutrient Requirements of Growing Horses and Ponies and see Table: Estimated Average Daily Nutrient Requirements of Mature (Over 3 to 4 Years of Age) Horses and Ponies Estimated Average Daily Nutrient Requirements of Mature (Over 3 to 4 Years of Age) Horses and Ponies ). However, the need for energy differs considerably among individuals; some horses require much greater amounts of feed than others (“hard keepers”), and others are much more efficient at feed digestion/utilization (“easy keepers”). Digestibility and energy value of feedstuffs also may differ significantly from published values or even chemical analyses. Therefore, the caloric recommendations provided herein should be considered only a starting point to determine the actual energy needs of a given horse.