Establishing Work Intensity in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · February 8, 2011
How much work does your horse perform? No one is likely to argue that a middle-aged gelding that spends most of his time in the pasture and only occasionally ferries children around the farm is nothing but an idle, nonworking horse.
What about an eight-year-old Morgan gelding that is used three days each week for beginner riding lessons, three days each week as a practice horse for a local vaulting team, and sometimes on Sunday as a sure-footed trail horse? He's exercised almost daily, but how much actual work does he perform?
In order to better explain the nutritional requirements of horses at various levels of work, nutritionists often classify horses in one of four categories: idle (maintenance), light, moderate, and intense.
A breakdown of each category follows.
Idle (maintenance). Mature horses that perform no work or that are ridden once a week or less regularly.
Light work. Horses in light work are exercised three or four times weekly in preparation for trail riding, pleasure driving, or as light training for low-key show events such as western pleasure, trail, and lower-level dressage.
Moderate work. Horses in moderate work participate in a near-daily, structured training program. Examples include reining horses, hunters, jumpers, upper-level dressage horses, polo ponies, foxhunters, and young racehorses undergoing breaking and training.
Heavy work. Horses in heavy work train and compete at the peak of their physical abilities. Examples include racehorses on an active racing schedule, three-day event horses preparing for competition, endurance and competitive trail ride mounts, draft horses pulling loads, carriage horses that put in long hours, ranch horses, or heavily used school horses.
These categories are not absolute, and horses may slide from one to another as their workloads increase and decrease. The categories are useful, though, when determining how much feed to give a horse, as feeding rates are often dependent upon work intensity.