by Walter Berger © 2001
How often have you wondered if you are feeding your horse too little or too much? Often it is very much a matter of looking at your horse to see if he’s dropping condition and feeling lethargic. Then there are the other extremes of a pony obviously rolling in fat or the thoroughbred that’s dumped you again out of sheer exuberance.
But how do you tell before it happens?First you have to know the weight of your horse. Short of weighing him or her, the simplest is to lay your hands on a Coprice weight estimator. The next choice is to use Nomograms. These are types of graphs where you draw a line between the two sides and read of the result on the middle scale. The two examples given have a line drawn on them, which I used to estimate Jarrah’s weight. An average was taken of the two results to give a approximate weight of 550kg.
Another piece of information that is used often to estimate weight is a body condition score. There a six of these. These are described by the look and feel of the horse.
0 VERY POOR - Very sunken rump, Deep cavity under tail, Skin tight over bones, Very prominent backbone and pelvis, Marked ewe neck.
1 POOR - Sunken rump, Cavity under tail, Ribs easily visible, prominent backbone and croup, Ewe neck - narrow and slack.
2 MODERATE - Flat rump either side of backbone, Ribs just visible, Narrow but firm neck, Backbone well covered.
3 GOOD - Rounded rump, Ribs just covered but easily felt, No crest, firm neck.
4 FAT - Rump well rounded, Gutter along back, Ribs and Pelvis hard to feel, Slight crest.
5 VERY FAT - Very bulging rump, Deep gutter along back, Ribs buried, Marked crest, Fold and lumps of fat.
These are used for the Nomogram on the above.
For the other estimation method you need two measurements. The first is a measurement from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttocks.
The second is the circumference of the girth of the horse just behind the withers and elbow.
Now you know how much your horse weighs. Now how do you keep him there, or get him to loose or gain weight?
First some basic facts. A horse needs to eat about 2% of his body weight of food a day. This is by DRY weight. Young spring growth may contain up to 85% water (no wonder horses get the runs in spring) while hay may only contain 10 to 15% water.
This means that a 450Kg horse might have to try to eat about 60kg of spring grass. No wonder they eat all the time. The same horse eating hay would need to eat a bit over 8Kg of hay a day.
These figures so far are just to satisfy the bulk needs of the horse’s digestive system. This will increase for a horse in work, and decrease for horse that just stands around all day.
But its not just the weight of feed required that changes with work, its also the energy content that’s critical. Now it gets a bit more complicated. First you have to work out how much work your horse does.
A horse just kept in the paddock is being kept at a maintenance level. Then there is light, medium and hard work. Light work would consist of five to eight hours of work a week that raises a slight sweat. Hard work would be a race, event or endurance horse in full training. Medium work obviously sits somewhere in the middle.
The more work your horse gets, the energy and other nutrients he obviously needs. This means that instead of eating hay , he may need to eat something with a higher energy value.
What this means is that the more work we give our horses, the more we need to think about if we are full filling their needs. This does not mean that the horse is fed on straight oats just if we go out for a leisurely hack.
Now with any nutritional details, other factors are involved. These include things such as temperament and good doerness (can’t think of any other way to say this), whether the horse is rugged or has access to shelter, or how cold or wet it is. These can not be calculated, but need to be taken into account by the hapless owner.
In the other nutrition article there is more information, even a table on nutritional details of some common feedstuffs. With a calculator and some spare (ha ha) time you’ll be able to work out an ideal diet. For more enquiries contact me Walter TOP