Energy: Five Facts You Need to Know!

In our latest instalment of our ‘Feeding Myths Busted’ feature, we tackle the concept of Energy and how important it can be to your horse’s diet, exercise regime, weight and condition.

Energy: Five Facts You Need To Know

Energy, even though it is a relatively simple concept, can be quite hard to grasp and feeding the correct amount of energy to your horse can be a confusing prospect when considerations of both diet and workload have to come into play to find the correct balanced.

To help you understand further, we have put together five key points that we think you need to know to help bust the myths around energy and help you find the optimum level to provide for your horse.

  1. Energy cannot be created or destroyed

Yes, you read correctly. Energy is simply converted from one form to another and the easiest way to think about its origin is that it is released from another nutrient upon its breakdown. The nutrients that are the main energy sources within your horse’s diet are proteins, carbohydrates and fats and oils and each differ in energy content.

  1. How much energy is contained in each nutrient?

Different nutrients provide different amounts of energy when metabolised by the horse during digestion. With regards to how much each nutrient provides, you can think of it afats-and-oilss a pyramid, with proteins right at the tip, fats below and carbohydrates filling the bottom tier (see diagram):

Proteins – Proteins are primarily used by the horse for muscle growth and development and are an inefficient source of energy, which is only used when carbohydrates
and fats are not available or in short supply

Fats and Oils – Fats are very energy dense and contain 2.25 x the
amount of energy that is stored in the same mass of carbohydrates! The quality of an oil is dependent on attributes such as the Omega 3/6 content, so feeds high in these can be very conditioning and should be fed with caution.

Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates come in several forms and are the main energy source in the equine diet. Simple sugars, such as glucose are water soluble forms of carbohydrates and provide a quick release source of energy, however, complex carbohydrates, like those found in fibre make up a greater proportion of the diet. Fibre contains structural polysaccharides such as cellulose and hemicellulose which because of their properties and method of breakdown, release energy over a longer period, and make fibre an excellent source of slow release energy.

  1. What type of energy does my horse need?

Energy for work and energy that causes weight gain are the same in the sense that if your horse receives more energy than he can utilise through exercise and metabolic processes, he will store it as fat, which will contribute to weight gain. This fact can be exploited and implemented in a positive way when feeding thin horses that need to gain weight, but it is also vital to be aware that horses who struggle with being overweight need not to be fed energy in excess to maintain a steady weight.

When thinking about energy for work, horses that are training harder will require a higher calorie input and should be fed to accommodate the additional exertion that their bodies will undergo during exercise. This diet however, would be unsuitable for a horse in light work, as it could contribute to weight gain, so it is really important to strike the correct balance between energy provided and energy utilised by the horse.

  1. What is Digestible Energy?

The Digestible Energy of a feed component is the Gross Energy, minus the energy lost in the faeces. It is not a legally recognised measure of energy for horses, so it doesn’t have to be declared on feed bags, but it is a really good way of indicating the energy content of a given feed, so most feed companies detail it anyway.

When considering the Digestible Energy of a feed, and as to whether it may be suitable for your horse, the table below may help to explain it better.


Look at the Digestible Energy of Fibre. It is quite low, which would correspond with the volume at which you would feed it, as it makes up a large proportion of the diet, so cannot provide too much energy per gram of dry matter. However, if you look at the conditioning mix, this is fed in much smaller quantities, but has a much higher Digestible Energy provision per ration. You need to know your facts about energy as feeding a high DE feedstuff in the incorrect quantity could be detrimental to your horse’s weight and condition!

  1. How do we measure energy?

Energy is measured in the same way that it is for humans to help make things simpler, in Calories (cal) and Joules (J). One Calorie is 4.2 Joules, however, the energy levels of horse feeds tend to be measured in Mega Joules (MJ), which is one million Joules! This may seem like a lot, but a horse as an organism requires a higher level of energy input than a human being to sustain vital metabolic processes

So, hopefully, the concept of energy and how to feed it correctly is clearer to you now and you are able to overcome some of the feeding issues you have encountered previously. It is so important to get the balance of diet and exercise correct to allow your horse to thrive and make the most of the feed that you provide him with to keep him in top condition all year round!


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