It’s old news that horses are no good at digesting large amounts of starch in their feed, and it’s now common knowledge that high starch diets can lead to the development of gastric ulcers, insulin resistance, laminitis and the onset of muscle myopathies.

While some horses (such as those with insulin resistance or conditions like laminitis, PSSM and Cushings), should only ever be fed low starch diets, performance horses that need more calories can have their diet tailored according to weight, workload, and attitude. Since these horses do not necessarily need to be fed high starch feeds, fats like soy oil can provide energy and assist with weight gain. 

How much grain does a horse need?

Horses doing only light work or at rest should be given a high fibre diet made up of forage (mainly grass, hay or haylage). Concentrated rations should be kept to a minimum to avoid consuming excess energy (which can easily turn into fat).

In general, the recommended daily amount of concentration to give a horse that is working ranges from 0.15% to 1% of the horse’s total body weight. Many horse owners forget that a horse’s gut can only handle small amounts of feed throughout the day, and that his stomach and small intestine needs to do all the hard work to break down and absorb the grain (concentrate).

Concentrates should therefore never surpass 3kg in a single ration, and if possible, feeds should be split into three rations over the day. When feeding your horse both hay and grain, the hay should be fed first to facilitate slow transition and good digestion in the small intestine. If the grain passes through too speedily and enters the cecum, the pH in the cecum may become too acidic, killing off the good bacteria and possibly causing laminitis or even worse, colic. This is because the stomach acid can get very concentrated without forage.

When a low-starch feed is a good idea

Horses on poor pasture: Sometimes a diet of grass or hay just isn’t enough. Horses need proteins and vitamins in their diet just like we do, and sometimes hay and pasture alone cannot provide these vital nutritional elements. In these situations you can supplement with daily rations of low starch/high fiber feed infused with trace minerals and vitamins. 

Easy Keepers: Breeds that are prone to gaining weight easily, such as Quarter Horses, PRE’s and native breeds are susceptible to many health problems, including the much feared laminitis. If these horses are given a feed that is rich in energy, they can easily become obese. A low starch alternative will ensure good health without the extra kilos.

Horses with inheritable muscular conditions: PSSM and ERS horses need careful dietary management to prevent flare ups and episodes of tying up. Research has shown that horses diagnosed with PSSM that are maintained with regular exercise and a diet that’s low in starch and sugar and high in fat can effectively eliminate many clinical signs of the disease.

Post-Op: Horses that have recently undergone surgery (especially gastrointestinal surgery) often have compromised digestive function. These horses recover quicker if they are given only highly digestible fibre with a low starch source of protein, vitamins and trace minerals. Feeds like Low Starch also contain probiotics (yeast) that can be helpful in supporting digestive function through improving the microbial population inside the horse.

Horses with compromised pituitary and thyroid function: Horses with thyroid or pituitary dysfunction could have reduced glucose tolerance and will benefit from a low starch diet.

Horses with liver or kidney dysfunction: Horses suffering from either renal or liver dysfunction require a diet which is low in protein, calcium and phosphorus. In addition, high-fat diets must be avoided in horses with liver dysfunction.

Old Horses: For geriatric horses that struggle to chew hay or graze on pasture due to a lack of teeth, a low starch feed combined with high fiber pellets that can be soaked in water, will ensure the horse receives sufficient nutrients and enough sustenance to keep weight on. 

Horses with endocrine disorders: For horses suffering from insulin resistance, cushings or equine metabolic syndrome, a high fiber/low starch diet is an extremely important part of treatment and management. Grass should be avoided, especially in early spring and late fall when the plant is hoarding the most sugars and a low starch feed can help ensure the horse does not develop any nutrient deficiencies.

Kelpies feeds keep your horse healthy from the inside out

Check out three of our favorite low starch feeds:

Low Starch & High Fibre

A low-starch/low-sugar muesli feed for horses with metabolic or digestive challenges. This formulation is calorie dense yet non-heating, making it ideal for horses that are easily excitable and require a long-lasting slow energy release for controlled performance. 

With Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and trace minerals, this feed is especially beneficial to metabolic horses prone to Laminitis,Cushing’s syndrome, PSSM and RER to keep them looking and feeling their best. Infused with Alltech technology Yea-Sacc®, Actigen®, Synergen® Bioplex®, Sel-Plex®

Keep Calm

A low starch feed in muesli format to provide a balanced ration for sensitive or very excitable horses. Formulated for anxious and excitable horses or those with conditions that require low starch diets. Keep Calm is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and highly digestible fiber which fosters calmer performance without loss of energy or condition. Infused with Alltech technology Yea-Sacc®, Actigen®, Synergen® Bioplex®, Sel-Plex®

Slow Energy 

A complete feed in muesli format for excitable horses that could require gradual-release energy. Prepared with a high fiber, low starch formula that is rich in essential amino acids, trace minerals, fatty acids, and antioxidants. This slow-release energy feed helps sustain vitality levels and calmer levels of performance in excitable horses or those that are sensitive to starch. Infused with Alltech technology Yea-Sacc®, Actigen®, Synergen® Bioplex®, Sel-Plex®

Want to find out more? Send us a message and we will get in touch to answer all of your questions.


Author Cristina

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