Know what your horse eats

When you want your horse to lose weight, creating a negative energy balance is the most important thing. In other words: your horse has to use more energy than he takes in. If you want that to happen, you have to know exactly how much his intake is in order to achieve a certain calorie deficit. Vandendriessche, equine veterinary surgeon and nutritionist, gives advice.

The number of calories your horse is allowed to take in depends on various factors such as breed, age and how much your horse exercises and moves around in his paddock. Your horse gets most energy and calories from roughage: grass, hay or haylage. With 70 to 100%, roughage is the basis of the horse’s diet. Roughage is important to keep your horse healthy! Every horse should have an intake of dry matter from roughage of at least 1.5% of its body weight daily. This means, an adult horse of 600 kg needs well over 10 kg hay a day.

Restrict roughage

Most horses that need to lose weight take in too much feed. The rule of thumb for horses that need to lose weight is: in the first place, restrict the roughage to 1.5 kg dry matter per 100 kg body weight. Dry matter is the part of the roughage that remains when all moisture has been removed.

It is important to know the values of the roughage you give to your horse. In the light of this, the dry matter content varies a lot depending on the roughage product. Grass for example, has on average a dry matter content of 20 to 25%, haylage on average 60 to 70% and hay on average 80 to 90%.

Further, the sugar content in the roughage can also vary substantially. Generally speaking, long stemmed hay is best. Often, that is a late cut which is not the same as a second or third cut but a cut which allows the grass to grow for a very long time. In some cases, this is also called bolted grass.

Veerle Vandendriessche

Nutritionist and Veterinarian (Diplomate ECVCN)

Her title Diplomate of the European College of Veterinary and Comparative Nutrition (ECVCN) shows that she is one of the absolute world class nutritionists. Veerle has specialized in horses and pets and is one of 36 European ‘Diplomates’, only two of whom are engaged fulltime with horse feed.

Have your horses’ teeth checked before you start with the weight loss program.

Only with good teeth your horse will be able to optimally take in the roughage.

How much roughage can I give my dieting horse per day?

Based on average values, the daily roughage advice is as follows:

Please note, for the best advice it is essential that you know the values of your own roughage. we recommend having a roughage analysis carried out. That way, you can also determine whether your horse might need extra feed in addition to the roughage.

Divide the roughage into approximately 6 portions per day. By doing so, you will prevent your horse from getting bored. Give the largest quantity in the evening because your horse will not get anything until the next morning. You can’t manage to feed your horse 6 times a day? Then, see what you can achieve and divide the portions proportionally to the number of hours in between the meals. Never leave your horse without access to roughage for more than 6 hours.

As you measure your horse on a weekly basis, you will have reliable information about his weight loss. When your horse loses between 0.5% and 1% of his body weight per week, you are on the right track.


Always weigh your roughage. For that purpose, you can use a steelyard balance or weigh beam.

Cross or impossible to drive forward?

Is your horse moody or extremely lazy during your training session? Note that this will pass! At some point your horse will have an energy dip. Its body is used to getting its energies out of the so called fast sugars. It takes a while until its body will get used to getting energy from other places. An energy dip or a moody horse can be the result of this.

Supposing that the energy dips lasts longer than a month, contact your vet.

Write down in the workbook exactly how much you give your horse!