BD at home: What type of energy does the dressage horse need?

  • Written By: SPILLERS
  • Published: Thu, 28 Jan 2021 15:51 GMT

Dressage requires a controlled, focused and athletic performance. Although success relies on far more than diet alone, have you ever wondered how the amount and type of energy you feed might affect your horse’s health and performance?

Spillers - What type of energy does the dressage horse need?

Energy in vs. energy out

Yes that’s right, it’s all about balance! Regardless of whether you are working towards your first prelim test or competing at Prix St George, the amount of energy you feed should be adjusted according to your horse’s current body condition score (BCS). Energy and calories are exactly the same thing which means body condition scoring is the best way to determine whether your horse’s energy requirements are being met (or exceeded!). Horses maintaining a healthy weight/ BCS are consuming the right amount of energy for their workload; over-supplying energy will lead to weight gain and under-supplying energy will lead to weight loss.

  • BCS your horse on a regular basis, aiming to maintain a score of 5 out of 9
  • Excess weight gain can have a significant effect on performance and has numerous health implications including excess joint strain and heat intolerance.

Energy doesn’t just come in a bucket!

Base as much of the diet on forage as possible. Forage is essential for digestive health and accounts for a significant portion of daily energy intake, even for horses in hard work. Balancers are the ideal solution for horses that maintain their weight easily on forage alone or less than the recommended ration of compound feed.

Energy sources

The main sources of energy in the horse’s diet are fibre, oil, starch and sugar. Fibre and oil are often referred to as sources of ‘slow release’ energy whilst sugar and starch are referred to as ‘quick release’ energy sources. Although all feeds contain some sugar (even if they are molasses free), forage is the largest source of sugar in the horse’s diet.

Fibre and oil

Choosing fibre based feeds helps to support digestive health and reduce the risk of unwanted excitability. Managing a naturally excitable or ‘sharp’ temperament can be challenging and diet is just one of many factors can an affect behaviour. However in general, diet may contribute to excitability in one of two ways; either by over-supplying energy or most commonly, by providing high levels of cereal starch. Tolerance to starch varies between individuals but as a guide, avoid mixes and look for feeds containing less than 15% starch (or less than 10% for very sensitive horses). If high levels of energy (calories) are required, feeds high in oil provide a sympathetic alternative to mixes and other cereal based feeds. In fact, oil is approximately 2.5 times higher in energy compared to cereals and starch free! Fibre and oil based feeds are also the ideal option for those prone to clinical conditions such as gastric ulcers, tying up and colic although in these cases, speak to a nutritionist for advice before changing your horse’s feed.


For some horses, feeds containing higher levels of cereal starch can help to promote a more energetic response although the reason for this is not fully understood.  However, they are by no means a guaranteed strategy and in some cases, feeding more starch may simply lead to an increase in ‘spooky’ behaviour. High starch diets are also unsuitable for horses and ponies prone to clinical conditions such as gastric ulcers, tying up, colic and laminitis.

Article supplied for BD at home: Ask the Expert by proud Winter Medium Freestyle Championship sponsors SPILLERS™. For more advice on feeding your dressage horse contact the SPILLERS™ Care-Line, 01908 226626 or