A Basic Guide to Feeding

Step one – How much does your horse or pony weigh?

Guide to Feeding Image 1

Guide to Feeding Image 2

You can work this out in several ways:


Take your horse to a public weighbridge or visit a yard that has a horse weighbridge.

Weigh tape

Place the weigh tape over your horse’s back just behind the withers and pass around him as close to the elbow as possible on a slight diagonal. Pull the weigh tape firmly but not too tight so it is smooth around his coat, then take a reading.

Weight formula

To calculate approximate bodyweight using body length and girth measurement:

Measure your horse’s girth (circumference) and length (from point of shoulder to point of buttock) and use the following calculation to give an approximate figure for bodyweight.

Guide to Feeding Image 4

Step two – What is your horse or pony’s body condition score?

Knowing your horse’s body condition score is as important as knowing his weight – use the table below to condition score your horse.

Condition Score 0 – Emaciated / Very Poor
• Pelvis: Angular, skin tight. Very sunken rump.Deep cavity under tail.
• Back and Ribs: Skin tight over ribs. Very prominent and sharp backbone.
• Neck: Marked ewe neck. Narrow and slack at base.

Condition Score 1 – Poor
• Pelvis: Prominent pelvis and croup.  Sunken rump but skin supple. Deep cavity under tail.
• Back and Ribs: Ribs easily visible. Prominent backbone with sunken skin on either side.
• Neck: Ewe neck, narrow and slack base.

Condition Score 2 – Moderate
• Pelvis: Rump flat either side of back bone. Croup well defined, some fat. Slight cavity under tail.
• Back and Ribs: Ribs just visible. Backbone covered but spine can be felt.
• Neck: Narrow but firm.

Condition Score 3 (IDEAL) – Good
• Pelvis: Covered by fat and rounded. No gutter. Pelvis easily felt.
• Back and Ribs: Ribs just covered and easily felt. No gutter along the back. Backbone well covered but spine can be felt.
• Neck: No crest (except for stallions), firm neck.

Condition Score 4 – Fat
• Pelvis: Gutter to root of tail. Pelvis covered by fat. Need firm pressure to feel.
• Back and Ribs: Ribs well covered – need pressure to feel. Gutter along backbone.
• Neck: Wide and firm.

Condition Score 5 – Obese / Very Fat
• Pelvis: Deep gutter to root of tail. Skin distended. Pelvis buried, cannot be felt.
• Back and Ribs: Ribs buried, cannot be felt. Deep gutter along back.Back broad and flat.
• Neck: Marked crest, very wide and firm. Fold of fat.



Step three – What level of work is your horse or pony in?

It is very important that your horse’s diet is based on the correct amount of energy needed for the level of work he is doing. The digestible energy (DE) level of a feed (measured in mega joules, MJ) tells you how much energy is available to the horse for maintenance and exercise. As energy and calories are basically the same thing, overestimating the level of work your horse carries out in a week can lead to over feeding and obesity. The guide below is based on the National Research Council (2007), Nutrient Requirements of Horses* and will help you to decide the level of work your horse is in.

Energy Level Workload
Low Maintenance – Grass or stable kept. Not in any work.
Light Work – Hacking and recreational riding between one and three times per week for up to an hour each time. Includes mainly walk and trot, but with a small amount of canter work.
Medium Medium Work – Recreational riding, schooling, showing, breaking and training and low level competition work. Ridden between three and five times per week for up to an hour at a time. Walk, trot and canter work, some low level jumping and/or some lateral work.
Hard Work – Polo ponies, horses in race training, novice to intermediate eventing, advanced show jumping, advanced dressage and hunting. Schooling up to five to six days for an hour each day. Lateral work, jump work and fast work may all be included in the schooling sessions.
High Very Hard Work – Racing (including trotting), advanced eventing, long distance endurance riding and hunting.

*National Research Council (2007) Nutrient Requirements of Horses. 6th ed. Washington D.C, National Academies Press.

Step four – Choosing and calculating the right amount of feed

The final consideration is your horse’s specific nutritional requirements such as age, conditions (for example laminitis) and feed intolerances. Every horse is individual and the right diet can make a substantial difference to his behaviour, performance, weight and condition. There are many different diets available that are tailored for horses with individual nutritional requirements, a few of the main ones you may wish to consider are:

Does your horse need a specialist feed?

Specialist diets include feeds low in starch and sugar, feeds suitable for laminitics or feeds for horses or ponies with intolerances to certain feed ingredients.

Does your horse need a veteran feed?

Feeds specially formulated with boosted levels of nutrients, helping to support the older horse’s increased nutritional needs. If your horse has worn or missing teeth then soaked feeds are ideal.

Does your horse need a feed for weight loss or weight gain?

Feeds for good doers and those needing to lose weight should be low in energy yet suitable feeds for those in poor condition requiring weight gain should be high in energy.


Giving your horse or pony the right amount of feed will help to prevent problems such as weight gain and over-excitability. It is important to know your horse’s body weight, condition and level of work and follow the recommended feeding guidelines on the feed sack. Check regularly for changes in body weight and condition and alter the feed/amount accordingly.