Low Carb Horse Diet

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Killing with Kindness Easy Keeper

As we are winding up another year, looking for gifts for our family, horse friends, and our horses too…and as we are headed to that time of New Year's Resolution, here's something for you to chew on.

Easy KeeperDo we kill with kindness? Do we give gifts to friends and family that are loaded with sugar, refined carbohydrates and fats? Do we feed our horses that way too?

It is a well-known fact that most horses (like most Americans) are overfed and under worked.

And many horses and their humans are "easy keepers", that is, they seem to stay pretty round on what seems like just air and water, as opposed to "hard keepers" who have a hard time gaining and keeping weight.

But in reality, it boils down to being overfed and underexercised.Easy Keeper

Although I am sure you know that overfeeding can lead to laminitis, did you know that horses can suffer from diabetes-like metabolic disorders just like humans?

That's why it is important to carefully regulate what you feed your horse, how much you feed him and when you feed him.

Horse exerciseAnd it is essential that he have the opportunity to get some sort of exercise regularly - active turnout, longeing, riding, driving, or ponying.


Lo Carb Diet for Sweetums???

A horse can't really be put on a lo-carb diet because carbohydrates are a natural and necessary part of a horse's diet. But many horses, just like people, will benefit from a low glycemic diet - one with more complex carbohydrates like roughage from hay and with fewer simple carbohydrates like sugar, molasses, refined grains, or sweet young pasture.Horse nervous energy

Horses get energy from fats and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates include simple sugars, starches and cellulose. Grains, grass and hay all contain varying amounts of sugars and starches and fiber. But if you feed excess fats and carbohydrates, it can lead to nervous energy, obesity, and other health problems.

To state it simply, it is healthier for a horse to eat oats than sugar; but even better that he eat beet pulp than oats; better that he eats grass hay than third cutting alfalfa hay; safer for him to be turned on mature pasture than new vigorous growth; and there might be a place in your horse's ration for oil (a fat).

Grains in general, such as corn, oats and barley, are lower in fiber and higher in energy than roughage like grass hay. But of the grains, oats are the safest to feed with hay because they are relatively high in fiber and low in energy, and higher in protein than corn. Corn has the highest energy content of any grain and can put weight on a horse quickly. Barley is an intermediate source of energy and protein content. horse exercise

Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate - it is the fiber or roughage portion of grass and hay. A horse digests cellulose in the cecum where small microbes break it down slowly over a period of time.

Fats are found in grains and roughages at a low level (2-4%) but horses benefit and can tolerate a ration that contains as high as 10% fat. A ration higher in fat than that can cause runny stools. Fats are necessary for metabolic functions and are associated with healthy sleek haircoats. Fats produce 2.25 times the amount of energy as an equal weight of carbohydrate and they produce less heat. (Adding oil to your horse's diet during cold weather won't keep him as warm as adding more fiber in the form of grass hay.)

Pasture can be a perfect part of a horse's diet or it can be disastrous. I am never in a hurry to turn my horses out on spring pasture. First, because dryland mountain pasture is fragile, I like the plants to get a good head start before the horses start their eager grazing. And secondly, I want the grass to be safest for my horses, that is low in sugar. Fast-growing grasses are usually lower in sugar concentration than slow -growing grasses. So in drought years (slow growth) I have to be watchful and err on the side of caution with turnout, but in normal years, once the grass is 4-6" tall, if environmental conditions are right (see below), I allow the horses monitored grazing. As our pasture grasses mature over the summer, they usually becomes safer for longer periods of grazing, both for the health of the pasture and the horses. But each locale, weather scenario, and forage type will result in different grazing recommendations. Night time temperatures are a big factor in the safety of grass for grazing.

Here in the foothills of the Rockies, after a hard freeze in the late fall, when the plants are completely brown, the pasture that is left is usually safe for light grazing. But I keep a close eye on it because leaving some plant matter in winter pastures will help catch and keep the precious winter snows.

For more information on the current research on low carb feeding and laminitis prevention, visit www.safergrass.org.


Two of my part-Warmblood mares began showing signs of EMS (Equine Metabolic Disorder) and I found a nutritional supplement that I have been feeding them.

easy keeper

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