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December 2012 - How intensively is your horse exercised?

Every horse owner knows that actively trained horses require more energy than horses which are kept on pasture or only exercised moderately for a few hours per week. The challenge comes when you need to consider more precisely how intensely your horse is exercised (trained). This is to determine how much extra energy you need to feed in order to cover the costs of the exercise. Since all estimations of exercise intensity are only approximate, it is important to check the horse’s body condition regularly. If you opt for a high level of training, and feed accordingly, the horse will easily get fat if your estimated training intensity was too high!

In the equine literature you can find detailed measurements of the energy costs for walking, trotting and galloping, taking into account the weight of rider and saddle, the surface, and the length of the sessions. Thus, with a meticulously kept training diary, it is possible to calculate the actual energy expenditure, and use this information to plan the horse’s ration.However, most people find such procedures hard to implement.

In PC-Horse, we have used the American (NRC) system which calculates the energy cost of the exercised horse relative to the maintenance energy requirement.

Total requirement = energy requirement for maintenance + energy requirement for training

For convenience, the total energy requirement is given as a factor by which the maintenance requirement is multiplied. Thus, for "light exercise” the factor is 1.25, meaning that PC-Horse will increase energy allocations by 25% above those needed for maintenance.

The following terms are commonly used to describe exercise intensity

Exercise (training) intensity

Factor (relative to maintenance)

Light exercise


Moderate exercise


Hard exercise


Intense exercise


 The following "rules" can be used to estimate the level of exercise your horse takes:

Light exercise: Hobby Horses that are trained moderately and not every day.
Moderate exercise: Jumping and dressage horses, Icelandic horses that are trained for competition and hobby horses which are in regular use several hours per day.
Hard training: Trotters and some show jumpers. There may also be other categories of horses that have in common that they are exercised relatively intensively most days of the week.
Intense training: Racing horses in active training and trotting horses working hard sessions on a daily basis.

If you are unsure how hard your horse is trained, your PC-Horse program will help you.

1. Enter the horse’s data in PC-Horse. If your horse is maintaining a stable body condition, proceed by entering the current ration you feed as accurately as possible. It will be a great advantage if you have already analysed your own roughage and entered it into PC-Horse, as roughages will vary quite a lot in energy content.

2. Proceed by entering the level of exercise based on the "rules" above. PC-Horse calculates the horse's energy requirement based on body weight, sex and race/blood type with an additional energy requirement that corresponds to the level of exercise you have provided. In addition, PC-Horse tells you how much energy the horse's current ration provides.

3. Now you can adjust the amount of exercise (by the slider in the program) so that the stated energy requirement matches the energy content of the ration. You will then have a fairly accurate estimate of the horse’s average energy expenditure - expressed as a multiple of its maintenance requirement.

 44 training

The actual numbers ​​can be read from the screen and in reports produced by PC-Horse. With a little practice you will soon be able to estimate the training or exercise intensity and possibly adjust the intensity level if the calculated values differ substantially from those you had expected. It is important to remember that the estimate you get through the procedure described above is for the average daily energy requirement over a time period that includes both active days of training and days of rest and restitution as well.