Understanding Calories and Energy for Horses

In most cases, energy requirement recommendations are an estimate of what a horse needs.
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Understanding Calories and Energy for Horses
Determining energy requirements and comparing these to the energy content of the diet is important when managing horses that are either under- or over-weight. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

Q: I’ve read articles that talk about the horse’s energy requirement in terms of Mcals of digestible energy. What is digestible energy and what is Mcal?

A: In the United States, we measure daily energy requirements for both humans and animals in terms of calories. One calorie is actually a heat measure and is the energy it takes to heat 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. Many areas of the world use joules as their measure of energy and 1 calorie is equal to 4.1868 joules.

It’s important to note whether we’re talking calorie with a lowercase c or Calorie with an upper case C—the the latter is actually the measure of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celcius. Therefore 1 Calorie is actually 1,000 calories, often referred to as one kcal where k stands for 1,000

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Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

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