Be Ready! Preparing for a Nutritional Consultation

KENTUCKY EQUINE RESEARCH — AUGUST 30, 2012 — Teaming up with a knowledgeable equine nutritionist is the best way to ensure that your horse is receiving optimal nutrition. Before consulting with a nutritionist, it is wise to take an objective look...

KENTUCKY EQUINE RESEARCH — AUGUST 30, 2012 — Teaming up with a knowledgeable equine nutritionist is the best way to ensure that your horse is receiving optimal nutrition. Before consulting with a nutritionist, it is wise to take an objective look at your horse and what you’re feeding him. By being prepared for the consultation, both you and your horse will get the most out of it.

Describe the Horse

Accurate measurements. Basic information such as your horse’s age, sex, and breed are easy to pass along, but other information must be gathered in order for the nutritionist to have a clear vision of the horse or pony he’s evaluating, particularly if the consultation is being done electronically.

Most important, the horse’s height and weight should be collected. Weight is best determined through the use of an electronic scale because of the accuracy of these instruments, but a weight-tape measurement is acceptable. Absolute precision is not necessary, but sometimes horses and ponies are deceptively heavy. In addition to height and weight, body condition score should be noted (see sidebar). Photographs of your horse from different angles will help the nutritionist if the consultation is performed electronically.

Detail the routine. A thorough description of the horse’s life stage and workload is needed by a nutritionist to determine nutrient requirements. An idle horse asked to perform no exercise has markedly different requirements than a broodmare at peak milk production or a polo pony in full work. For performance horses, it is important to disclose the details of the horse’s training schedule. The description might be something as simple as, “He’s ridden 45 minutes four days a week, primarily at the trot and canter,” to a more complex training schedule, such as that encountered in eventing or endurance riding. The key to determining workload is accurate representation of the exercise asked of the horse.

Note unusual feeding challenges. Does your horse or pony have a feeding or nutritional idiosyncrasy that most other horses don’t have? Has your pony had laminitic episodes in the past? Does your gelding have a low tolerance for starch in his diet? Does your mare break out in hives when she’s fed alfalfa? Pass on any essential information to the nutritionist so it can be figured into the final recommendations.

Inventory the Feedstuffs

Forage. Because they are the most natural of feedstuffs, forages should be the basis of all equine diets, and therefore most horses and ponies rely on forages as the primary sources of calories. If fed primarily hay or an alternative forage product (hay cubes or hay pellets), it is easy to determine nutrient composition through laboratory testing. (See sidebar on how to get your forage tested.)

If your horse consumes mostly pasture, it will be necessary to describe the pasture accurately in terms of acreage and number of horses grazing per acre as well as plant type, quality, and abundance. If the turnout area is a drylot or contains only unpalatable weeds, mention this. Many horses consume a combination of preserved and fresh forages, and the nutritionist will need to know how much of each (e.g., how much time spent grazing and how much time spent stalled consuming hay).

Concentrates. Many horses are given cereals grains, most commonly oats, or commercial textured or pelleted feeds. In order for a nutritionist to ascertain what nutrients the horse is receiving from the concentrate, he must know the composition of it and the amount being fed. The composition can usually be determined from information printed on the bag or tag, so have this information handy. The amount fed must be relayed in weight, not volume. Because scoops and dippers come in various sizes, it is best to weigh the amount fed daily. An everyday kitchen scale can be used for this.

Salt. Do you have a salt block available to your horse or pony at all times? Be sure to let the nutritionist know. Sodium and chloride are often deficient in typical grain and hay diets, but free-choice access to a salt block alleviates that concern.

Supplements. The benefits of certain nutritional supplements are indisputable. To complete your horse’s nutritional evaluation, a complete list of supplements must be provided. Included in the list should be the name of the supplement, the daily amount recommended by the manufacturer, and the daily amount actually given to the horse. A brief explanation of why a particular supplement is fed is also helpful. For example, if you feed a natural vitamin E supplement, the explanation may be as brief as, “my gelding doesn’t have access to pasture.” Oversupplementation is a frequent problem among horses, so a complete accounting of all supplements is necessary to avoid this. Assembling all of the information you can about your horse and his diet before the consultation will help ensure that you get the most out of your time with the nutritionist.

Forage Testing

The surest way to determine if hay is appropriate for horses is by conducting a thorough visual inspection and sending samples for laboratory testing. By doing this, you can be more confident in the forage choices you make for your horses. Go to for more information on forage sampling and testing. 

Body Condition Scores (BCS) and Descriptions

BCS 1 Poor Animal extremely emaciated; vertebrae, ribs, and hip bones projecting prominently; bone structure of withers, shoulders, and neck easily noticeable, no fatty tissue can be felt.

BCS 2 Very thin animal. Emaciated; slight fat covering over vertebrae; ribs, tailhead, and hip bones prominent; withers, shoulders, and neck structure faintly discernible.

BCS 3 Thin. Slight fat cover over ribs; ribs easily discernible; tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually; hip bones appear rounded but easily discernible; withers, shoulders, and neck accentuated.

BCS 4 Moderately thin. Slight ridge along back; faint outline of the ribs discernible; tailhead prominence depends on conformation, fat can be felt around it; hip bones not discernible; withers, shoulders, and neck not obviously thin.

BCS 5 Moderate. Back is flat (no crease or ridge); ribs not visually distinguishable, but easily felt; fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy; withers appear rounded over; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

BCS 6 Moderately fleshy. May have slight crease down back; fat over ribs spongy; fat around tailhead soft; fat beginning to be deposited along the side of withers, behind shoulders, and along the sides of neck.

BCS 7 Fleshy. May have crease down back; individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat; fat around tailhead soft; fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck.

BCS 8 Fat. Crease down back; difficult to feel ribs; fat around tailhead very soft; area along withers filled with fat; area behind shoulder filled with fat; noticeable thickening of the neck; fat deposited along the inner thighs.

BCS 9 Extremely fat. Obvious crease down back; patchy fat appearing over ribs; bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck; fat along inner thighs may rub together; flank filled with fat.

Equinews magazine is published by Kentucky Equine Research, an international equine nutrition, research, and consultation company serving both the horse owner and the feed industry. For more information, visit or visit our online library of nutrition and health articles at To submit a nutrition question to KER, please fill out our consultation form online.






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