The Power of Energy in the Equine Diet

Discover how energy factors into your horse’s diet and the different ways to manipulate it. Read more in this article from the Summer 2023 issue of The Horse.

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endurance horses
Riders look to energy for everything from sustaining their mounts on long rides to fueling bursts of speed over fences and around barrels. | Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

How energy factors into your horse’s diet and the different ways to manipulate it

The definition of equine energy is as vast as the force itself. Barrel racers look to energy to increase their horses’ vigor, fueling the bursts of speed they need on the pattern. Dressage riders depend on energy for prolonged stamina as horses work in collection, performing advanced full-body movements. Trail riders count on it to sustain their mounts to the end of a full-day ride.

In this article Natalie Sullivan, MS, PAS, owner of On Course Equine Nutrition, and Carey Williams, PhD, equine extension specialist and professor at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the Equine Science Center, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, shed light on what energy is and how it impacts horses in their work.

What Is Energy?

Everyone knows what energy is—at least they think they do.

Williams believes many people think of energy as what horses use to exercise, but it’s more than that. Energy supports life, and its definition is complex.

“How we get energy is by breaking chemical bonds with energy sources,” Williams says.

In less scientific terms, when a horse consumes food, his body must break it down before he can draw energy from it, she explains. In Williams’ opinion, energy units, which are measured as kilocalories or megacalories in horses, are one of the most difficult nutrition concepts to comprehend.

“The three ways that horses get energy from food is through carbohydrates, proteins, and fat,” Sullivan says, noting that each source provides energy in a different manner. Feeds often contain a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and fat in different ratios. How these sources are prioritized in the diet impacts a horse’s performance or excitability

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We at The Horse work to provide you with the latest and most reliable news and information on equine health, care, management, and welfare through our magazine and Our explanatory journalism provides an understandable resource on important and sometimes complex health issues. Your subscription will help The Horse continue to offer this vital resource to horse owners of all breeds, disciplines, and experience levels.


Written by:

Kayli Hanley is a freelance writer for KH Creative Solutions LLC, in Mesa, Arizona. She spends most of her free time in one of two places: at a desk writing about horses or in the great outdoors riding them.

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