Another year has begun and I am sure that many of you have horsey goals and aims for 2015.

If your horse has had some time off over the winter or has had a much reduced work load, then the first step in achieving your aim for 2015 should be conditioning your horse correctly for the work that you expect him to do. Correct feeding is essential.

Rules of feeding

The main thing is that you should always feed for work done, not what you are going to do.

Remember that particularly in the early stages of fittening your horse is in light work building to light-medium level and, therefore, the majority of its feeding should be in the form of forage.

Assess your horse

Assessing the condition of your horse is key at any time of the season but particularly before embarking on fittening.

Would you like it to be trimmer, or has it dropped too much condition over the winter? Whatever the end goal, it needs to be fit for purpose. Your end point will affect the type of feeding your horse will ultimately require, and, therefore, what you are building up to.

The type of horse you have will also have an influence on how you go about the fittening process.

The good doer

This horse has probably come out of the winter with varying degrees of too much condition. The winter so far has not been conducive to weight loss in this type.

To start with, a balancer pellet or mineral supplement and chaff will be plenty and in some cases may be all that the animal ever needs, dependent on the level of work required.

Balancer pellets provide all the vitamins and minerals that your horse requires plus quality protein, which is required to replenish muscle lost due to lack of work.

These types usually require more time to fitten to faster work than their more athletic counterparts.

Those being fittened to a light-medium level and beyond may begin to feel like they need a little more energy or 'oomph'.

Energy and 'oomph'

Stepping up to a light-medium work feed will be unlikely to have the desired effect on this type and the extra calories are likely to be laid down as fat.

Instead, add a small quantity of oats (whole oats, tiger oats), or competition mix, to the feed to give a rapid release energy source.

It is surprising how small an amount is needed to have an effect. Start with a small handful in each feed and increase slowly until the desired effect is achieved, giving it a few days at each new level.

Small amounts of oil can also be fed to provide some slow release energy. Never do this unless your horse has already reached its ideal body condition.

You don't want to increase weight again. Experience shows that the best way of feeding this type of animal is to use a balancer type product and chaff as a year round base ration with the flexibility of adjusting the amount of oats, oil and chaff type (Hi-Fi, Graze-on, Alfa-A etc) depending on work level, body condition and temperament.

Strict dieting

An easy mistake is to panic that your horse has too much condition a month before its first competition (in particular eventing) and cut back its feed drastically.

This means the poor animal goes into competition with low energy reserves and feeling terrible.

Think how terrible and low in energy a strict diet can make you feel! The desired body condition should be achieved, as far as possible, in the early stages of fittening and then maintained, this means that the horse can be fed according to its work load in the latter stages of fittening.

The natural athlete and poor doer

This horse will probably be running up a little light after winter or be just about perfect.

Feeding a conditioning feed 50:50 with a light-medium work feed (Harbro Country Horse and Pony mix or nuts, Pasture Mix, Cool Mix) should help to regain lost condition and aid muscle development throughout the fittening period.

Otherwise feed a light-medium work feed or chaff and a balancer pellet topped up with oats, beet pulp and oil as required.

Depending on condition, once the grass comes through, this type of horse may not require an energy boost, and could easily go through the majority of the fittening period without any changes to feeding.

Higher levels of energy will be required, however, if training progresses to medium-hard levels.

This is when it is pertinent to consider introducing a specially formulated competition feed, to avoid any imbalances.

Look for feeds based on oil and fibre for stamina events, (eg endurance) and ones with a higher proportion of cereals for events requiring bursts of speed (eg affiliated show jumping).


Rations for 'fizzy' horses should be based on high spec chaffs (alfalfa or dried grass), with sugar beet pulp and oil being increased, as required, for controlled energy and condition.

Again a balancer pellet should be used to provide all the protein and trace elements required, higher spec'ed competition type balancers have higher levels of key minerals and trace elements for those in harder work.

It has been proven time and again that it is possible to compete to Novice 3 day event level and beyond on a forage, balancer and oil based ration.

As with all feeding, each animal is an individual and what suits one horse will not necessarily suit another.

Be aware that extra energy fed will be laid down as fat in good doers, and excess condition makes work harder for your horse. Knowing your horse well is essential to knowing when it is ready to move up a level in its feeding.

A weigh tape used once a week along with body condition scoring will help you to keep an eye on condition. If in doubt make use of a nutritionist and don't forget to make any changes gradually.