Horse Food & Nutrition: Managing Your Horse's Weight

Martha Terry talks to Petplan Equine Vet of the Year Gil Riley about how best to feed an unmotivated or listless horse.

We’re all guilty of being a little lazy sometimes, and the same goes for our horses. But is it your horse’s weight that is making him lack that get-up-and-go attitude? Might he have a spring in his step if he lost a few pounds?

Gil Riley shares an example of a horse he visited that was lame and 150kg overweight: now 100kg lighter, the horse is sound and lively. ‘Most horses do not need hard feed unless they are in vigorous athletic work,’ says Gil. So if your horse is slow to move off the leg, it’s worth asking yourself if you’re feeding him correctly.

It’s a bit of a vicious circle, as horses that are overweight will feel less inclined to move around, but still eat lots of food – horses are genetically programmed to eat and store energy. Here are some practical steps if your horse is on the podgy side:

  1. Calculate your horse’s weight and decide on a target. Use our step-by-step body scoring video guide to assess his condition. Your vet will also be able to weigh him and advise on an ideal weight for his build and level of work.
  2. Reduce feed gradually. Take, for example, a pony weighing 440kg that has a target weight of 360kg. Rather than feed him for 360kg, which might irritate him and lead to behavioural issues, Gil suggests initially feeding for 400kg. A good rule is to feed 1.5% of a horse’s body weight in dry matter every 24 hours. So this pony would need 6kg of dry matter daily, split up as 1.5kg of hay and 1.5kg of chaff morning and night. It’s vital that you weigh food to ensure accuracy.
  3. Assess progress by trial and error. If your horse’s weight goes up or stays the same, you need to feed him less. Perhaps he needs less turnout, or to be muzzled. If his weight is dropping slowly but steadily week on week, your calculations are right. Remember, though, to keep an eye on the amount of feed after the goal weight has been reached, to ensure he doesn’t become thin. More tips on assessing and managing your horse’s weight can be found in our weight management guide.


If a lack of motivation seems to tip into listlessness or lethargy, there could be more serious medical issues at hand, such as anaemia, liver or lung problems, or (in older horses in particular) Cushing’s disease.

Making sure your horse is not over or underweight is important for his health and wellbeing. It may be that he is a little on the lazy side, so spicing up your riding should inspire him to enjoy exercise more, and weight can be managed through controlled feeding. But if you notice listlessness and lethargy, it’s important to consult your vet.

Free guide: Weight