During the summer months when excess weight is often a concern, many horse owners ask whether it is possible to find a feed that will provide more energy without more calories. So, is there really a difference between energy and calories and is it possible to feed more of one without the other?

Although ‘energy’ is often associated with performance or behaviour and ‘calories’ with weight, they are exactly the same thing. Unfortunately this means that it is impossible to find a feed that is high in energy but low calories (or vice versa)!

The easiest way to assess whether any horse or pony is consuming the right amount of energy for their workload is to look at their body condition. Horses/ ponies maintaining a healthy weight/ body condition are consuming the right amount of energy, underweight horses are not consuming enough and overweight horses are consuming too much. Regardless of whether a feed has been classified as ‘heating or non-heating’, ‘low calorie or high calorie’, feeding more energy than the horse burns will result in excess weight gain.

energy and calories for horses

In many cases lethargy is not diet related, so simply changing or increasing your horse’s feed is unlikely to be the solution.

Feed & Management Tips for laidback horses

  •  Aim to maintain a body condition score of 5 out 9 – being overweight can have a significant effect on energy levels
  •  Don’t increase feed in anticipation of increased work
  •  Feeds high in starch may help to achieve a more energetic response in some horses but should be avoided for ponies, natives and good doers. High starch diets are also unsuitable for horses and ponies prone to clinical conditions such as laminitis, colic, gastric ulcers and tying up
  • Keep your horse/ pony as fit as possible – improving his fitness may also help to improve his natural energy levels. Speak to an instructor or trainer for more advice
  • Try to maintain a varied workload to prevent your horse/ pony getting bored


Energy supplements may help but avoid those containing iron. Iron is generally oversupplied in the diet and can be harmful if consumed in excess. Only use feeds and supplements approved by BETA NOPS if you are competing under FEI rules

For more information on how many calories your horse or pony should be eating, don't hesitate to contact the SPILLERS Care-Line.