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Assessing your horse’s body condition score

Assessing your horse’s body condition score
‘Condition’ is a term used to describe muscle development but unfortunately, many people get confused about the difference between good muscle t..

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Nia O’Malley

Frequently asked questions

Grass can provide horses that are at rest or in light work with sufficient calories, and even protein, to meet their daily requirements. However, even the very best grazing will not provide optimal levels of all the essential minerals. For example, horses at pasture, with no supplementary feed, can be deficient in both zinc and copper. This can result in problems such as poor hoof and coat condition. Horses that maintain weight easily on grazing alone will not need large quantities of concentrates and so a low intake, nutrient-rich balancer (i.e. Connolly’s Red Mills Performa Care or GroCare Balancer) is ideal. Horses in moderate to hard work have increased nutrient requirements. However, there isn’t sufficient capacity in the digestive system, or hours in the day, to consume enough grass to meet these requirements. Therefore, as workload increases, so does the need for concentrate feed. Feeding a suitable concentrate ration will ensure that horses in frequent work receive the additional calories, protein and micronutrients needed to support performance.
The best way to know how much a scoop of your feed holds is to weigh it! You can buy a spring balance or use kitchen scales. Put a scoop of your feed into a plastic bag and place it on the spring balance or the scales and weigh it accurately. As a rule, a scoop of cubes will weigh more than a similar scoop of mix. On average a round Stubbs scoop of cubes will weigh approximately 2.0kg whereas a scoop of mix will weigh approximately 1.5kg. These weights are only guidelines and will vary with the type of feed and whether you provide a level or heaped scoop. Weighing your scoop of feed is advisable in order to follow the manufacturer’s feeding guidelines correctly.
A horse’s diet should always be based on forage, whether fresh (i.e. grass) or preserved (i.e. haylage or hay). Most horses require between 2-3% of their bodyweight as dry food per day. If your horse needs to lose weight it may be necessary to restrict their total daily dry matter intake slightly. However, you should always speak to your vet before limiting your horse’s forage intake as, if not managed correctly, this can increase the risk of serious digestive and health problems. Some of your horse’s daily ration will be provided as hard feed (concentrates), but ideally as much as possible should be forage. When calculating the amount of forage your horse needs, it’s also important to remember that even preserved forage contains some water, for example hay usually contains around 15% moisture, so 1kg of hay actually provides 0.85kg of dry matter. As most horses are turned out for at least part of their day determining the exact amount of preserved forage they need, if any, can be difficult. As a guide, if your horse is never turned out, or is turned out only for few hours, then the entire forage portion of the diet should be provided as conserved forage. However, for horses that spend 50% of their time at grass, or that are permanently out on a semi-starvation paddock, this can be reduced by half.