Let’s Talk About Condition

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Condition of the horse is the relationship between muscle and fat, within the context of general alertness, behavioural normality and stamina. It is wrong to assume that by increasing the weight of an underweight horse you are improving condition. In fact, it is quite important to assess what is your horse’s condition, and where you want it to go. The “condition” of a show horse, for example, is different to the “condition” of an endurance horse.
There is a general mechanism to quantify the condition of a horse, based on numerical scoring of features at various body points. This simply requires feeling along the neck & shoulders, withers, backbone, hindquarters and tailhead, and along the ribs. Within each area there is a 5 point assessment from bony (e.g. protruding hips, ribs) – score 0 – up to the presence of fat bulges at score 5. Averaging out the given score results in the Condition Score. Normal range is 2-4, with less than 2 being underweight and greater than 4 being overweight. In all cases, the appearance on boniness should be an alert as an indication of poor condition.
Of course, it may not be this simple; a horse can be fat, but under-muscled, whilst a lean, powerful looking horse may benefit from a little fat covering. So within the parameters, looking at differences between the scores for each bodily area may indicate in what direction weight gain is needed.
Feeding the horse to improve condition can be a complex affair, dependant on:
Energy intake
Carbohydrate intake
Fat Intake
Trace Elements
& most importantly the intake of the correct type of forage.
Simply by increasing the energy intake the condition of a horse is not necessarily improved. By increasing fat or carbohydrate levels of a ration will increase the energy levels but energy intake over output will on result in fat deposition. By simply increasing the protein content, extra amino acids will be deaminated leading to fat deposition.
The process requires a balanced intake of nutrients allowing the metabolism of the horse build protein, deposit reasonable amounts of fat whilst still providing energy for maintaining its biochemical systems. This means an increase in all nutrients in a form that the horse can digest and absorb in a normal meal.
It is OK to add small amounts of oil to a diet to increase energy reserves and it is better than using some forms of carbohydrate, but should be regarded as a short-term measure, unless exercise is to be increased over the long term.
The best way of improving condition is to obtain more energy from natural feedstuffs. Both Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet benefit from micronized sugar beet. This enables:
Improved nutrient availability in the small intestine to increase uptake of protein, minerals and fat
Improved fermentation and nutrient availability in the hind gut due to increased microbial activity.
It would be expected that Speedi-Beet would therefore be a better conditioner than Fibre-Beet as it is pure micronized sugar beet and has a higher energy level. In the short term this may be true, but Speedi-Beet is designed to substitute for high energy feeds, replacing carbohydrates with a beneficial fibre profile. Thus, in feeding recommendations existing rations usually have the hard feed reduced and, for maintenance, the forage element is balanced off generically.
Fibre-Beet is designed to improve the overall intake and consistency of fibre. Substituting some of the forage component with Fibre-Beet the fibre profile can be enhanced giving a better ratio of celluloses: hemicelluloses: pectins than grass/hay/haylage alone. Coupled with its improved nutrient availability, and its somewhat different protein profile, Fibre-Beet is a long-term condition improver and maintainer.
There is a third option. As mentioned before, small amounts of oil can improve energy intake, and Fibre-Beet can improve protein intake, but feeding Cooked Linseed can be a useful addition. When exercising, there is a cycle of protein solubilisation and regeneration in the skeletal muscles. Providing the right proportion of amino acids into this mix (and these include branched chain amino acids and arginine) as well as some trace elements, increased muscle development can be achieved. Feeding protein without exercise will not improve body condition but supplying the correct protein to an exercising horse will.
By increasing relevant protein, energy or a combination of both will help improve condition; although it may be mainly used to increase weight/body protein, reductions can also be achieved.

For further information contact a member of the team on 01765 680300 or email enquiries@britishhorsefeeds.com.