An optimally functional musculoskeletal system is crucial for athletic performance and even minor perturbations can limit athletic ability. The introduction of the muscle biopsy technique in the 1970s created a window of opportunity to examine the form and function of equine skeletal muscle. Muscle histochemical and biochemical analyses have allowed characterization of the properties of equine muscle fibres and their influence on, and adaptation to, physical exertion. Analyses of exercise responses during standardized treadmill exercise and field studies have illustrated the role of cellular energetics in determining athletic suitability for specific disciplines, mechanisms of fatigue, adaptations to training and the affect of diet on metabolic responses. This article provides a review of the tools available to study muscle energetics in the horse, discusses the muscular metabolic pathways and summarizes the energetics of exercise.