Conditioning Your Horse for the Summer

NOTE: This transcript is from an online, live chat. The major topics have been captured in the material below. If you have further questions, please search the eXtension Horses page for more in-depth and detailed information.


Q: When should I start increasing the amount I feed when I start to condition my horse for the summer show season?

A: As you start to increase work intensity or duration, start increasing feed intake to keep up with the energy expenditure; however, it’s also important to maintain the horse’s body condition. If the horse is too fat, then continue at the same level before increasing feed. If the horse is thin, increase the feed intake to increase its weight. Many horses carry more weight than they need from the inactivity of the previous months and may not need much of an increase in feed. If the horse is out of shape, make sure you gradually start bringing him back into work.

Q: What would be a good weight for a horse for summer showing?

A: Body condition scoring is the most effective way to determine if your horse is where it needs to be weight-wise. Check out eXtension’s Horses Body Condition Scoring learning module for additional information. Aim for a body condition score of 5 or 6, then work up to that point.

Q: Isn’t fat a more stable source of energy?

A: Fat is a better energy source in that it doesn’t give that rapid conversion to energy like carbohydrates do. Corn and other high-sugar and high-starch grains convert to energy rapidly, which is why corn is usually referred to as a “hot feed.”

Q: Any thoughts on refined versus unrefined oils?

A: I am not totally familiar with the differences, but I do know corn oil tastes best to horses. Canola oil has a higher level of Omega 3s, and fish oil is the highest in Omega 3s. Rice bran is a good source of fat because it is high in fat, horses love it, and it is high in fiber.

Q: What are your thoughts about high protein supplements?

A: The best quality protein sources are soybean meal and alfalfa. If you have to use a supplement, make sure it is fortified with lysine and threonine. They are amino acids that are limiting in the horse’s diet and need to be the first amino acids supplemented.

Q: How is soybean meal dispersed?

A: Soybean meal is usually available in a flaky form or powder. You can feed it as you would bran or other supplement. The amount of soybean meal added to the horse’s diet depends on the horse. If you feed horses a high-protein hay such as alfalfa, you shouldn’t need soybean meal. However, if you have a very poor-quality hay or are feeding a growing or lactating horse, you will need higher levels of soybean meal.

Q: What about protein levels for a growing horse that is starting training?

Maintaining Healthy Equine Microbiota

The bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses that colonize the equine gastrointestinal tract, collectively known as the microbiota, play a crucial role in the horse’s health.

The bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses that colonize the equine gastrointestinal tract, collectively known as the microbiota, play a crucial role in the horse’s health. Microbiota is involved in numerous biological processes: regulation of immune homeostasis, metabolic functions, synthesis of vitamins, nutrient uptake, development of pathology, and disease resistance. If the delicate balance of the microbiota is disrupted, typically through some combination of poor diet and stress, a state of dysbiosis develops.

Dysbiosis is known to have broad-reaching effects within the digestive tract and may lead to increased susceptibility to infection, local and systemic inflammatory reactions, and diminished nutrient uptake. Other health effects beyond the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may include respiratory and metabolic disease, and even obesity. In the horse, manifestations of dysbiosis are typically identified within the GI tract itself presenting as gastric and colonic ulcers, diarrhea, colitis, colic, laminitis, and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Protecting Horses Against the Growing Flu Threat

Research shows equine influenza vaccines and vaccination practices must evolve to keep up with changing flu strains.

There’s much ado about flu of late and with good reason. The incidence of equine influenza virus (EIV) has trended upward since 2008. It was the most common infectious upper respiratory disease of the horse in 2019.¹,² Of the horses with known vaccination status, 61% of positive EIV cases occurred in horses vaccinated against EIV.²

What’s driving this apparent EIV vaccine failure? Antigenic drift, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Their findings show that rather than foreign EIV strains being introduced into the U.S., native flu strains are changing.³

Case in point: The 2013 influenza outbreak that occurred in Florida in a large number of well-vaccinated horses. Researchers with Merck Animal Health’s found those horses were infected with a new flu strain, named Florida ’13 after the location and date of first isolation.

Choosing Forages for Horse Pastures

Learn about forage types and how to select the right one for your horse’s pasture.

Healthy pastures filled with dense, nutritive grasses can be excellent forage sources for horses. In fact, some horses can meet all their nutrient needs on good-quality pasture alone. The key to establishing good pasture, however, is planting the appropriate forage types.

During the University of Maryland (UMD) Extension’s healthy horse-keeping webinar series, pasture and forage specialist Amanda Grev, MS, PhD, described different forage types and how to select the best ones for your horse’s pasture.

First, make sure your pastures are well-managed. “No forage species will persist if continually overgrazed or mismanaged,” she said. “Good pasture requires good management, and that will be true no matter what forage species we have in our fields.”

Forage Characteristics

Grev described the broad forage characteristics property owners need to understand when selecting a species.

Cool vs. warm season

As their names imply, cool-season forages do best in cool, wet climates (they grow best between 60-80°F), while warm-season forages thrive in hot, dry climates (75-90°F). Grev explained that cool-season forages grow mostly in the spring and fall and slack off in the summer. Warm-season forages do just the opposite—they grow mostly in summer.

Examples of cool-season forages include Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, orchardgrass, and tall fescue. Warm-season forages include Bermuda grass, bahia grass, big bluestem, and Indian grass.

“One of the things to consider when debating whether a warm-season or cool-season forage is appropriate is what part of the country we’re in,” Grev said. “Cool-season forages predominate the northern half of the United States, with warm-season forages in the southern half. Places like Maryland fall into that transition zone where we can have some warm-season and some cool-season forages.”

Grasses vs. legumes

The main difference between grasses and legumes is their nutrient content. Grev explained that grasses tend to be lower in protein and calcium, a little lower in caloric value, and higher in fiber than legumes. Legumes have a higher feed intake and higher digestible energy than grasses. Plus, livestock tend to prefer them.

Caring for the Senior Horse

Description: The old adage “you’re only as old as you feel,” is especially applicable to horses. Many senior horses have productive careers well into their late twenties. Research suggests that the secret to maintaining a serviceable older horse is to make proactive management changes in their health care, diet and exercise. Signs of aging include dental problems, weight or muscle loss, gray hairs around the face, flank and tail head, and stiffening of the joints. The average onset of aging signs in horses is twenty years. Like humans, the degree of physical aging varies from horse to horse. 

Speaker Biography: Founder and director of My Horse University, an online horse management program based out of Michigan State University Extension…

Stable Yard Design – The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Dream Horse Barn

Whether you are designing your perfect stable yard, renovating an existing stable yard, or simply looking for inspiration, this article is packed full of useful stable yard design information and ideas to help you achieve your dream horse barn.

I’ve always been obsessed with the design and functionality of stable yards – I find it virtually impossible to walk onto a yard without re-organising, or completely redesigning, it in my head! I’ve put together this guide for any of you with same affliction as me, or for any of you fortunate enough to be designing and building your own yard or renovating / re-organising your existing facilities.

I’m guessing that most of you, like me, at some point in your life, have come across what you’d consider to be your…

‘Perfect Stable Yard Design’

Whether that be at a show venue, visiting your trainer, visiting yards when looking for a new horse, etc, or even just scrolling through Google image search, Pintrest or similar, for pictures of…

‘Dream Horse Barns’

…and dreaming about one day having your own place that wouldn’t look out of place on the list!

Dream Horse Barns

I’m guilty of this… I once viewed a horse for sale in the glorious Cotswolds in England – I approached a beautiful Manor house along a tree-lined drive flanked by perfect post & rail paddocks (feeling rather out of place in my tatty 4×4!); there were flowers everywhere, and the ten huge stables had bespoke internal partitions with brass finials. They were set in a wonderfully airy purpose-built brick barn with block paved flooring and a path lead from the yard past a round-pen to a gorgeous covered arena with mirrors and a fabulous set of show jumps. Every detail was stunning – and I still wanted to re-organise the tack room!. Anyway, I didn’t buy the horse but went home and spent the whole evening scrolling through pictures of similar facilities online whilst doodling designs for my perfect yard.

The above might not sound like your idea of a perfect stable yard design – everyone’s opinions will be different – but regardless of the aesthetics that appeal to you, and the facilities you lust after, most of the basic considerations for designing your perfect stable yard will remain the same.

What Are Your Requirements for Your Stable Yard Design?

Stable yard design - making plans

Everyone’s requirements for their stable yard design will be different… from a couple of stables in your home paddock and maybe a schooling area, to a sprawling competition venue with every equestrian facility you can imagine. Get a pen and paper and make a list as you go through this article!

Will the yard be for private or commercial use?

Read This Before You Buy Your First Horse

Buying a horse is a lot like buying a used car. Both take a lot of research, plus some experience and smart buying strategies, to make a purchase you’ll be happy with. Use this guide and tips, developed by equine legal experts, to get prepared for your first horse.

Too many first-time horse owners select a horse that isn’t right for them. Eventually, they get frustrated and give up on horses altogether, forever missing out on the joy of horse ownership. At Equine Legal Solutions, our whole lives are about horses. We want to do everything we can to encourage new horse owners and help them enjoy horses as much as we do. So, we put together this guide to buying your first horse.

Buying a horse is a lot like buying a used car. Both take a lot of research, plus some experience and smart buying strategies, to make a purchase you’ll be happy with. Like used car salesmen, horse sellers have earned a reputation as somewhat shady characters who often downplay flaws and enhance attributes.
With creatures as beautiful and sensitive as horses are, it’s easy to let our hearts rule our heads. But that’s why we wrote this guide–to help first time horse buyers make smart choices.

Not So Fast! Before You Buy a Horse…

As much as we love horses, we know that not everyone should own one. Not even every horse lover should actually own a horse. Horses are a huge time commitment, as well as a huge emotional and financial commitment. Horse ownership is certainly not for the faint of heart (or light of wallet)! Here are some steps we suggest taking before you decide to buy a horse. If you don’t have an instructor (but we highly recommend you do!), rely upon the advice of a trusted friend who is very knowledgeable about horses and has horses whose behavior you admire.

  1. Enroll in regular riding lessons (at least once a week) with a reputable trainer or instructor.
  2. Consider a full or partial lease of a horse for at least six months. Leasing is an arrangement in which you pay either a fixed fee or a portion of the horse’s expenses in exchange for riding time on that horse. In the typical full lease, you take over all of the horse’s expenses and care responsibilities, and in a typical partial lease, the owner remains primarily responsible for these items. Ask your instructor or trainer to recommend a leasing situation for you. Many trainers and instructors have horses for lease in their barns. Equine Legal Solutions offers horse lease agreement forms that clarify the owner’s and the lessee’s responsibilities.
  3. Only if leasing a horse doesn’t provide enough “horse time” for you, should you consider actually purchasing a horse. Deciding to buy a horse is a huge commitment, a lot like going from owning a dog to having a baby.

Horse Buying Budgets

First time horse buyers often ask me how much they should spend on a horse. The answer really depends upon what you want to achieve with that horse. If you just want to go out and have fun, and maybe compete at a local level, you should be able to find a suitable horse for $5,000 or less (with some variance based upon the local horse market in your area). If you have more serious competitive aspirations, consult with your instructor regarding what you should expect to spend for a suitable horse. Keep in mind that your first horse can be a “starter horse”–a horse that is safe for you and will help you learn basic horsemanship skills. Even if you eventually want to compete at a national or world level, your first horse doesn’t have to be the horse that will take you to the top.

Five Creative Pole Work Exercises

Looking for a polework exercise to really get your horse thinking? Check out this exciting layout – its benefits definitely outweigh the set-up time

Our expert

Elizabeth Allen BHSI UKCC3 is part of the Bristol-based Collective Equestrian team. She’s a BHS, Pony Club and BD accredited trainer, and has competed internationally at Under 25 Grand Prix and at the World Young Horse Championships.

Our model

Olivia Robertson rides 17-year-old Don Dellero (Lexi),Elizabeth Allen’s Hanoverian gelding, who has successfully competed at Advanced level dressage.

A super-sociable exercise that offers something for everyone, a demanding set-up that keeps your horse focused, or even a bit of fun to shake up a stale schooling regime – whatever you’re after, this versatile polework exercise has you covered. So, if you want an all-purpose plan that ticks all the right boxes, this is the one for you. Let’s take a look at how to do it.

Set Up Your Pole Layout

You’ll need plenty of time and man-power to set this one up but, we assure you, the benefits are numerous! You’ll need…

  • 20 3m trot poles
  • four 3.5m trot poles
  • four pole pods or blocks
  • Start building from the centre outwards, with the box over X

Top tip The 3.5m poles should be used on the first and third boxes to make rectangles. However, if you don’t have any longer length poles, you can just leave a small gap at each end of a 3m pole.

Pole Work Exercise 1: Through The Middle

How to ride it… Take your horse onto a figure-of-eight in trot, using the square box of poles as the centre of your shape.

Mix it up… Add canter into the exercise. If your horse jumps, or has established flying changes, this exercise offers him two opportunities to get the correct change over the poles.

If your horse isn’t confident changing lead over the poles, test his suppleness by adapting the exercise and staying on a circle in canter but changing the rein in trot when you’re ready. By doing it on both reins, you can test that your horse offers the same degree of bend both ways.

Good for… warming up and improving suppleness.

Pole Work Exercise 2: Down The Centre

How to ride it… Ride down the centre line in an active trot. When you’re happy that he’s maintaining a good rhythm, add in some transitions. For example, trot between the first set of poles, transition to walk between the next, halt in the centre, then go back up to walk and trot between the next sets of poles.

Strip Grazing Explained

Warmer weather means rapid grass growth, so it may be time to rethink how much your horse has access to. Rachel Dyke explains the benefits of strip grazing and how to implement it

While you’re probably familiar with strip grazing as a method of restricting grass for tubby ponies, you may not be aware that it’s benefits are much wider-reaching.

Strip grazing involves fencing off a small strip in your horse’s pasture and moving the fences regularly to allow your horse access to fresh grass. How often you move the fencing is determined by grass growth and your horse’s appetite, and it may vary throughout the year, particularly during spring and summer when the grass is growing up to five times faster than in late autumn.

Both the fences of the grazing area should be moved at the same time, so the strip naturally migrates back and forth across the pasture. This creates three different areas of the field — the recovering, grazing and resting areas (see diagram, right) — although the size of these will fluctuate depending on the location of the strip.

Why strip graze?

There are three main reasons for strip grazing…

To protect your pasture

It helps the grass to grow at a healthy, productive rate because only a small area of the pasture is grazed at a time, while the ungrazed areas are rested and allowed to recover. Overgrazing without resting will result in reduced grass growth and quality, as horses will tend to eat the more palatable species first. When paddocks are overgrazed, bare areas are quickly filled with weeds.

To manage weight

It reduces your horse’s grass intake, which can help to manage his weight. Grass is high in soluble carbohydrates (fructans), which can lead to problems such as obesity and laminitis if ingested in large quantities, particularly in the spring and autumn. However, the amount of grass made available in the strip will dictate how successful it is in controlling his weight. You’ll probably need to use strip grazing alongside other weight management methods, such as time in the stable or fitting a grazing muzzle, at times of rapid grass growth.

To acclimatise to a new field

It can be used when moving your horse to a field with more grass than he’s accustomed to. The strip can gradually be made wider as he adjusts to the extra grass, provided that this doesn’t lead to excessive weight gain.

Strip Grazing

What do you need?

Because strip grazing involves regularly changing the paddock boundaries, it’s best to use electrical tape and posts to divide the field. These are cost-effective, and can be erected and moved easily. An electric current is recommended to help deter your horse from trying to gain access to the ungrazed grass on the other side of the fence.

5 Steps To Your Fittest Horse Yet

Whether you’re stepping up to the next competition level, bringing your horse back into work or just want to ride him for longer, a proper fitness routine is key.

Whether you hack, school or compete your horse, in order to really enjoy your riding, it’s important that he’s fit for the level of work he’s doing. Not only will this keep him going for as long as you want him to, but it also minimises the likelihood that he’ll pick up any injuries along the way. 

It’s important to build your horse’s fitness gradually, over a period of weeks or months, to ensure his body has time to adapt as his exercise increases. This may sound like a lot of time and effort but, once you’ve laid the foundations, you’ll soon reap the benefits. Plus, there are a number of ways to keep it varied. Take a look at these fundamentals when formulating your horse’s fitness plans.

TOP TIP – If your horse needs to lose some weight, a brisk walk or steady trot will burn more fat than faster canter work.

Step 1 – Hill Work

When undertaking a new fitness plan, one of the most invaluable weapons in your arsenal is hill work. Taking your horse up and down hills is far more demanding than completing the same distance on a flat surface, so it’ll help you get him fit much quicker and by adding less miles on the clock.

While uphill work provides crucial cardio, encouraging your horse to breathe deeply and use his whole body, downhill work uses different muscles and improves his strength and balance.

How to do it Start by trotting your horse up hills and walking him down them. Repeat this at least a few times per session. Encourage your horse to reach into the contact to ensure he’s engaging the correct muscles. As he becomes fitter, introduce canter, too. It’s important that you build your pace going downhill as well, but start off with walk and slow trot, as he’ll find it much harder to balance this way. 

TOP TIP – If you’re focusing on improving your horse’s strength and muscle tone, add plenty of transitions into your hill work, too.

hillwork with horse for fitness

Step 2 – Gymnastic Exercises

Polework, gridwork and cavaletti are fantastic workouts regardless of your preferred discipline. They’ll encourage your horse to become more agile and athletic, improving his core strength.

How to do it Start off with poles on the ground to trot and canter over, before moving onto raised poles and cavaletti. As your horse gets fitter, you can progress to building small grids, bounces and combinations. You can also alter the distance between the poles to encourage your horse to extend and collect his paces. This will help increase his fitness and build muscle mass.

Incorporating gymnastic work into your lungeing routine will reap similar benefits, and you’ll be able to see how your horse engages from the ground. 

lungeing horse over trotting poles

Know your distances

When setting up poles, cavaletti or grids, it’s important to get your distances correct…

  • Trot poles: 1.2–1.7m
  • Canter poles: 2.7–3.4m
  • Bounce striding: 3–3.7m
  • One stride distance: 6.4–7.5m 
  • Two stride distance: 10–11m

Top tip – When setting up poles or jumps on a curve, measure the distance from the centre of each pole.


Interval training is easy to incorporate into your hacks, and is a great way to gradually boost your horse’s fitness and stamina.