Identifying Working Levels in Horses

It is common for a horse owner to think that their horse’s workload is lighter than it is, as identifying the workload of a horse can be challenging at times. Whatever the level of work a horse is doing, it needs essential quality protein, vitamins and minerals to support general health and well-being.

A horse considered at maintenance is one that stays in a paddock, meaning that it is not in any work at all. For these horses ‘balancers’ such as Ranvet Ration Balancer are particularly useful as they supply all the essential nutrients with no additional calories, thus ensuring a balanced diet at times.

As workload increases, so does the requirement for certain nutrients. It can be difficult to assess which level of work your horse is in and the amount of feed they require. Many available diets recommended a feeding rate that is based on the horse’s body weight and the level of work they are in. Overestimating a horse’s workload and then overfeeding will cause the horse to gain weight. Underfeeding causes weight loss.

Work Levels:

The National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses identifies four work levels and describes how to calculate your horse’s workload:

  • A horse in light work does between one and three hours of work per week. This is made up of approximately 40% walk, 50% trot and 10% canter. This could include trail or pleasure riding, working ponies, horses during the early stages of training, or show horses given occasional work. The hours are really only a rough guide, if you’re doing six hours of mostly walking it’s still light work. 10% canter works out to up to a full 30 minutes of cantering each week. Be realistic about your work level.
  • A horse in moderate work does between three and five hours per week. This is made up of approximately 30% walk, 55% trot and 10% canter, 5% low jumps or other skill work. This could include horses used for trail riding, horses during early stages of training, show horses, dressage, campdraft, polo, stock work, cutting horses, showjumpers and low-level eventers. Again, these hours are just a guide. If you’re doing dressage training this means you’re still in a moderate level of work if you’re doing two and a half hours of trotting each week!
  • Heavy work is a horse doing between four and five hours per week. This is made up of 20% walk, 50% trot, 10% canter, 15% gallop, jumping or other skill work. This could include stock horses, polo, high level dressage & show jumping, medium level eventing and race training.
  • Very Heavy/Intense work is usually only done by racehorses, elite 3-day eventers and endurance horses. Their work varies – it can be one hour each week of speed work or between six and twelve hours of slow work. Their average heartbeat across all working hours will be in the range 110 – 150 bpm.


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