How can we be sure that the ration we give our horse is adapted to their nutritional needs? How can we better objectify the intensity of the work in order to better evaluate these same nutritional needs? In short, let’s see together how to calculate your horse’s ration.
The maintenance and production needs of the horse 🍽🐴
The calculation of the horse’s ration is the sum of two “needs”: maintenance needs and production needs:
⏩ The maintenance needs correspond to the energy expenditure of the organism to keep itself alive. The latter enables all vital functions to be carried out: breathing, digestion, waste elimination, thermoregulation, activities of the various organs, etc. They depend on the weight of the horse, but also on its body condition, sex, temperament, health or even environmental factors such as climate.
⏩ When the organism is under great strain (muscular work of the sport horse, growth of the youngster, gestation and lactation of the broodmare), nutritional requirements increase. We then speak of production needs. They are added to the maintenance needs.
📚 On the same topic : What Could Go Wrong If Your Horse Is Overweight
It is because of these production needs that, historically, man began to feed horses with cereals. The work horse and the war horse had an intense activity! It doesn’t seem that their days were very light, if you know what I mean.
Therefore, the use of cereals was necessary to satisfy a double goal. First, to increase energy intake. Second, to limit the food intake time. As you can imagine, there was no time for a war horse to quietly ingest their hay to meet their nutritional needs before a battle.
To sum up, the calculation of the ration is done like this:
Now let’s see how to calculate the maintenance and production needs of your horse.
How to calculate your horse’s maintenance needs?
For that, it’s all a question of … genetics 🧬
The basic metabolism (and therefore the needs) varies from breed to breed. For example, ponies have a relatively low basic metabolism and therefore have relatively low energy requirements. They are therefore able to satisfy themselves on a frugal diet. Conversely, horses close to thoroughbred tend to have a high metabolic rate with maintenance needs that are therefore high as well.
Then, I am not teaching you anything, we are not equal on this topic… There are also variations linked to the genetic characteristics of individuals. Don’t tell me that you have never been annoyed by this person who nonchalantly swallows tons of food and doesn’t gain a gram while you get fatter just by looking at your dessert! Well, with horses, it’s pretty much the same.
Maintenance needs may also vary depending on the horse’s lifestyle, such as whether they live in a warm environment or are in the pasture without shelter.
How to calculate your horse’s production needs?
As explained above, to calculate a horse’s ration, production needs must be added to the maintenance needs.
These production needs are linked to all the additional needs: gestation, growth, work…
How to estimate more precisely the production needs of the horse at work?
The last difficulty when trying to calculate the horse’s ration accurately lies in measuring the intensity of the effort. Indeed, the INRA (French Institute of Agronomical Research) only specifies 4 levels of effort: very light, light, moderate and intense. That’s good, but it’s not at all objective.
At Equisense, it’s a little puzzle we’ve been working on for a long time. How can you tell if your work is light, moderate or intense? In fact, a horse’s energy expenditure at work, and therefore its production needs, can only be measured by one thing: heart rate. ❤️
In fact, a formula developed by researchers makes it possible to easily go from heart rate to VO2 (the volume of oxygen consumed) and finally to the energy expended. The calculation gives us a result in calories, but it is easy to transpose this into UFC!
By measuring the heart rate on a daily basis during training, we can therefore have a complete follow-up of the energy expended by the horse, and therefore more precisely categorize the level of training intensity, to calculate the horse’s ration accordingly!
This is exactly why we have developed our latest product : Equisense Motion S, which measures, among other things, your horse’s heart rate and energy expenditure at work!
💡 4 mistakes to avoid when calculating your horse’s ration
1) Not taking into account the volume of the ration
Another important thing to consider is your horse’s ability to ingest a given volume of food. This is called the ingestion capacity, which actually corresponds to the horse’s level of voluntary consumption. This is very important because it defines the overall volume of the ration and therefore determines the nutrient concentration needed to cover the requirements.
To give you an idea, in a 500 kg adult horse, it can vary from 8 to 12 kg of dry matter (DM) per day depending on the intensity of the work (10 kg DM in spring grass equivalent = 50 kg and in hay equivalent = 12 kg!).
This is why for sport horses with high nutritional needs, specific feeds must be formulated that concentrate the necessary nutrients (energy, protein, fat, micronutrients) in a balanced feed volume (neither too low nor too high).
📚 On the same topic: 4 Good Reasons to Feed Your Horse Mash
2) Under/Overestimating the fodder
Fodder plays an indispensable role on the psychic comfort of the horse but not only! It also contributes to the coverage of nutritional needs. The difficulty? To quantify it!
It is essential to weigh the hay to be able to integrate it into a ration calculation. We often have the impression that we are putting more than the reality… Moreover, the quality of both grazed (grass) and preserved (hay) fodder is of course very heterogeneous (and fluctuates over the year).
A fodder analysis allows to obtain these values and then to use them to determine the most suitable fodder supplement.
3) Choosing a food based only on the label and ingredients.
When energy, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements are not fully covered by the forage, the most suitable feed must be chosen. Often, the first reflex is to look at the ingredients and in particular the cereals used. However, this information is only really useful if you don’t want an ingredient to enter your horse’s ration.
The second reflex is to look at the label, which actually contains more regulatory information than useful nutritional information.
Refer to the technical data sheets that the manufacturers make available to you on the Internet. To calculate the optimal ration for your horse, do not hesitate to ask your local technician.
4) Divert the use of the food
Keep in mind that a food has been formulated for a specific situation. An adult feed will not be high enough in protein for a lactating broodmare and vice versa for a breeding feed. Conversely, a sport feed will be too energetic for a club horse. Finally, a complementary feed of fodder AND cereals also supposes an intake of cereals in the ration etc. In short, respecting the instructions for use is the best way to be correct from a nutritional point of view!
👉 Feeding is 80% invisible
Setting up a feeding program calculated as closely as possible to the nutritional needs of your horse, taking into account its level of work, is a guarantee of sporting and vital longevity. As for us, the horse’s diet is 20% visible (coat and hair shine, feet, body score) but above all 80% invisible (immunity, integrity of the digestive system, fertility, osteo-articular status etc).
Vet and Destrier Nutritional Expert
Cofounder and Scientific Director of Equisense
 V. Etienne, “Chamboule-tout dans les origines des chevaux”, Communiqué de presse du CNRS, 22 fév. 2018
Icones and images :
Male Avatar by Artem Kovyazin from the Noun Project
Baby by Artem Kovyazin from the Noun Project
Weather by Lane F. Kinkade from the Noun Project