Missed the September online chat about Conditioning Horses for Different Equine Events? Review the chat summary to see what others asked our experts.

Conditioning Horses for Different Equine Events

HorseQuest Experts included:

  • Dr. Kevin Kline, University of Illinois]], University of Illinois
  • Dr. Carey Williams, Rutgers University
  • Dr. David Freeman, Oklahoma State University

Get Prepared:

NOTE: This transcript is from an online, live chat. The major topics have been captured in the material below. If you have further questions, please search eXtension for more in-depth and detailed information.

September 2007 – Online Chat Summary


Q: How do you increase or decrease a feeding regimen when a horse is laid up and then starts coming back?

A: Well, that is a hard question to answer because it really depends on the horse. Some horses will be fine on an all hay diet while they are on lay up, then as they start working slowly add back in the grain or what ever supplements they were on prior to the lay up. Other horses will have to have a little added grain or energy to maintain weight.

Q: I have a mare that foaled late in the season and I want her to gain some condition. She is giving everything to the foal and she is at a BC score of 4. What do I need to do? Currently she is out on pasture and getting 2 pints 12% complete pellet, 1 pint calf manna, 2 pints Alfalfa pellets and 2 pints cracked corn 2 times a day (calf manna 1x).

A: If you have tried several different types of grain feeding programs, and you still need to pick up more body condition, you can try a complete pelleted feed. Complete pelleted feed combines the hay and grain into one feed. We have done a few studies at UI and found horses getting the exact same nutrients were more efficient eating complete pellets.
I would also recommend adding some fat to the diet, for example, rice bran.

Q: What percentage protein or should that be my focus?

A: Your focus should be more on the calories, and a good estimate of how much grain to feed starts with the idea that a grown horse will eat 2 -2.5% of it’s body weight daily. Then, they can eat about half of the total feed as grain. Therefore if your horse weighs 1000 lbs, you can feed about 12.5 lbs of hay and 12.5 lbs of grain daily, after you have gradually worked up to that level of grain feeding.

Q: Would I need to increase the hay to make up for the lack of grain?

A: Typically horses eat about 2% of their body weight. So if your horse is about 1000 lbs you can feed them about 20 lbs of hay and then add or subtract the hay as you are monitoring their weight gain or loss. Make sure to monitor body condition score during this time to decide how much hay you should be feeding.

Body Condition Scoring

Q: How do you evaluate body condition score?

A: You can find a body condition scoring system on the Horse Quest web site.

Conditioning for Recovering/Injured Equines

Q: Are there special precautions I should take to recondition my gelding who’s recovering from EPM? He’s been out for almost a year now and his treatment has been for the past four months.

A: First, check with your vet to make sure all systems are go and then, treat the horse like he has been out of work a long time and out of shape. To slowly rehab you should start with short term, slow exercise several times a week, then slowly increase intensity over a couple of weeks and the time of individual works per day.

Q: What exercises would be best to recondition my gelding recovering from EPM?

A: That’s a hard one to recommend without watching the recovery progression. If you want to try to push and see where recovery is at, you might think about ponying at a lope/canter. Find some gradual hills to help get his muscles back in shape.

Q: I also have a mare that has bruised her tail (can’t swat files etc). What steps do I need to take to bring her back into light work and should I be concerned?

A: You should not have much concern, assuming you’ve got a problem that is specific to the tail. Be sure to use fly spray. The tail is a long way from her heart! Ride her – she’ll be fine! However, if she so painful that she becomes dangerous, then contact your vet for analgesia.

Q: What are your ideas about conditioning horses after an injury or founder?

A: You need to make sure you have a close contact with your vet! Make sure your horse is completely recovered before you start doing too much.

General Conditioning

Q: How fit does a horse need to be to be able to compete in a jumping event? The event I’m looking at competing in has no jumps over 3 feet.

A: Figure a stadium course will be about a minute to minute and a half in length, so monitoring the HR and respiration is the best way to monitor conditioning. If you monitor his respiration as you are working with him during your lessons or practice, by the time they are done with the course they shouldn’t be puffing. To really be good in the stadium they need to be able to do a good 30 to 45 minute jump lesson too. I think with your practicing jumping you should also do long slow distance stuff, in or out of the arena.

Q: My horse is pasture fed, and I don’t compete with him or anything, but if I wanted to start jumping him, how would I go about conditioning him?

A: Balance with ground poles, and finding out if he has the aptitude for jumping will come after a little while, but conditioning is probably not as necessary at this point.

Q: We have another TB, but he never raced or trained for racing. He’s weaker in the hind end, and I was wondering what kinds of things we could do to strengthen his muscles?

A: Find some hills to ride and you should probably also have a thorough vet check to make sure you don’t have a neurological problem like EPM. You could also ride him in deep sand if possible and keep up a high protein 12- 14 % CP diet that has some extra calories from fats and oils. You might consider using support wraps in the deep sand.


Q: I used to work for a vet who often worked with horses, and he was a very strong believer in acupuncture and herbal meds for arthritis problems. I was wondering how you all felt about those methods?

A: Herbs are hard in horses and there is so little research done. Devils claw and yucca are used in a lot of joint supplements; however, nothing has been proven in horses to be effective. There are a lot of testimonials out there, but nothing scientifically proven. Joint supplements as well, have not been definitively proven. Things like glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate work in some cases with some horses but not others. They don’t work as preventative measures, typically only with horses that have existing arthritis problems. I usually tell people if they don’t’ see an improvement within 2-3 months of feeding it I wouldn’t waste your money. Echinecia has been used with one study in horses and it looked at the effects on the immune system. They found minimal effects, at day 35 of supplementation, but that has not yet been duplicated.