Managing carbs in your horse’s diet

David Sanderson Equipment, Food, Preparation & Health

Here’a a great piece by Bill Vandgergrift and Elaine Pascoe on nutrition, via EquiSearch:

Grain and forage meet your horse’s energy needs by supplying a variety of carbohydrates. Understanding how your horse processes and puts them to use can help you make smart feed choices. The different kinds of carbs can be classified in several ways–by their roles in plant tissue, by the way they’re digested by the horse and by the way they’re analyzed in the lab. Here are some important types:

Structural carbohydrates, such as cellulose and hemicellulose, make up the stiff, supportive cell walls of plants. They provide fiber, much of which is fermented by microorganisms in the horse’s hindgut. (The term “crude fiber,” used on feed labels, refers to structural carbohydrates.) Fiber is essential for the horse’s gut health, and it’s an important source of energy.

Soluble fibers are fermented more rapidly than structural carbohydrates. They include pectin, a component of plant cell walls that is converted into fatty acids in the hindgut. Beet pulp and soy hulls have high levels of pectin.

Nonstructural carbohydrates are the sugars and starches stored inside plant cells. They include simple sugars (glucose and fructose) and complex polysaccharides, such as starch and fructans, which form when molecules of simple sugars link up.

Starches are the main nonstructural carbohydrates in grains, legumes like alfalfa, and warm-season grasses, such as coastal Bermuda grass. Various grains contain different types of starch, some (oats, sorghum, corn) more easily digested by horses than others. Starches are broken down into sucrose and fructose and absorbed in the horse’s small intestine. If a horse consumes more starch than his small intestine can handle at one sitting, the excess spills over to the hindgut–causing a population explosion of microbes that ferment sugar and starch and setting off a cascade of events that can lead to colic or laminitis.

Keep reading right here on EquiSearch!