A riding club horse lacks energy in his work and the owner has been recommended a competition mix. The horse is of mixed (unknown) breed and is a good doer who puts on weight easily. He is a carrying plenty of condition. He is well schooled and hacks out once or twice weekly with a little trot and canter.
It’s easy to think that a horse lacking energy in their work needs more dietary energy. However, in reality, this is rarely the case. If the horse was losing weight or in a gruelling fittening programme that has recently been increased, he may need more dietary energy. But if the horse is maintaining weight, is in good condition i.e. carrying some body fat, is healthy, and is fed a balanced diet, then the issue is much more likely to be one of physical fitness or motivation.
Improvements in fitness rely on a progressive programme of exercise, so the horse will not get fitter if he is ridden on the same hacks at the same speed. A fitter horse has more energy and is usually more enthusiastic in his arena work. Increased physical fitness and being leaner is often the most effective way to give a horse more energy in their work.
Some horses are naturally forward-thinking and the rider may never consider their motivation! However, others are more backward-thinking or easily bored, so keeping their attention and forwardness, especially in flatwork, can be challenging. Getting some help with exercises to develop enthusiasm, and taking the horse out to different environments can help. Ensuring the horse clearly understands the aids for forwards and ensuring the rider’s timing in giving a reward is good, can also make a big difference.
If energy from any form is over-fed, the horse will put on body fat, which could make them more lethargic in their work. Some horses respond to starchy cereals with more ‘fizz’ and this is probably why mixes are often recommended for horses lacking energy. Grain and coarse mixes can, however, make the horse more reactive and spooky, or can simply cause weight gain.
Always ensure the diet is properly balanced, adding extra vitamins and minerals if necessary, and speak to a veterinarian if any health issue is suspected.