Fad diets are exceedingly popular among all walks of life, including horses! Though not all low carb diets are equine appropriate (looking at you Atkins!) you might be surprised to learn why horse nutritionists favor low carbohydrates in some cases.
Let’s start with the basics. A horse’s digestive system was built for grazing. That means it’s constructed to process fiber above all else. It makes sense, then, that high fiber, low soluble carbohydrate feeds would most closely mirror what they instinctually eat.
Think switching your horse to a low carb diet could improve the health of their digestive tract, allowing them to perform and train better? Make sure you understand the basics first!
Structural Carbohydrates VS Nonstructural Carbohydrates
The type of carbs in your horse’s feed can mean the difference between a high performing steed and an overweight dud. Structural carbohydrates are fibrous in nature and easily digested. They make up the cell walls in plants and are essential for good health.
Conversely, sugary and starchy nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) live inside the plant cells. Over time NSCs build up and move through the bloodstream. As toxicity levels rise they can lead to degenerative ailments like lameness, colic, laminitis and tying-up disease.
Horses that have the freedom to forage for large portions of the day, ingest a host of complex carbohydrates that benefit their delicate systems. Most horse nutritionists and veterinarians recommend a diet with soluble carbohydrate levels that top out at approximately 20%.
What happens with too few carbs?
Intense horse training that lasts more than an hour a day calls for an increase in calories. Whether they’re engaging in jumping, racing or endurance training, these supplemental calories are essential for maintaining your horse’s weight.
The danger begins when a horse’s muscles are deprived of glycogen, a byproduct of carbohydrates. This lack can also create a dangerous imbalance in blood glucose that research has shown can alter or halt a horse’s central nervous system, resulting in a comatose state or even death. When fed too little carbs during training, the horse’s internal processes may also begin targeting and digesting its own muscle mass for energy.
What to look for in a low-carb horse feed?
Providing a diet that is high in fiber can offset soluble carbohydrate levels. The benefits of which are twofold. However, it’s important to be on the lookout for additional ingredients, which can help meet key caloric requirements for horses in training.
Providing an energy dense diet with sufficient calories is key when switching to a low carb feeding regimen. Typically, this means moving away from oats and grains, while simultaneously increasing the available fiber.
Other key ingredients may include things like:
- coconut oil and coconut meal
- shredded beet pulp- which provides ample fiber and calories
- soy hulls, wheat midds and alfalfa meal
- vegetable oil, flaxseed meal and stabilized rice bran
You can also check that high fiber, low soluble carbohydrate feeds have been fortified with vitamins and minerals. All of which can help replenish lost calories without resorting to a grain-based diet. In addition to fiber, quality fat sources can provide additional energy to help offset carb reduction.
With spring drawing near, training season is just around the corner. Now is the time to start your horse on a steady regimen of quality low carb, fiber-rich horse feed. Check out our U.S. made horse food products, designed for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption.