Reducing sugar (aka. glucose or starch, non-structural carbohydrate) in your horse’s diet is not a novel idea. As horse owners, we’ve all heard this at least once. But, what does it actually mean? And how do you effectively go about reducing this sweet tasting tyrant in your horse’s diet?
All valid questions, and a bit perplexing at times. I know I sure struggled with solving this quest to reduce sugar. Ultimately this lead me to adopt a name and explanation for what I now call “Glucose Dependency”, the details of which for another time. In summary though, it’s crucial to reduce your horse’s glucose intake to truly have a happy, healthy equine partner.
So, I’ve rounded up my top 3 most effective ways to immediately reduce glucose intake. When you take action on these 3 pointers, your horse will thank you! They too have negative side-effects to a high sugar diet, just like you and me 🙂
#1 Are you the Fairy-Godmother of treats?
I’m serious. Do you think you are the Fairy-Godmother of treats, skipping along granting every horse’s wish and plopping a cookie in his bucket? A little harsh I know, but for real.
My first and foremost effective tip, is to cut back on those treats!
I know, I know, “but he was such a good boy today in our lesson”…
There are other ways to reward your horse. Really ask yourself if he “needs” the treat, or if it is your amazing nurturing desire to give “more love” to your beautiful friend? Not trying to beat you up, but this is the harsh reality all of us loving horse parents have to face…I’ve been through this harsh reality too. I understand <3
What you can do instead:
- Reduce the number of treats, and change what they are made of.
- Start with fresh options, like an apple or pear but, only offer these when they are naturally available. Meaning, when they are naturally ripe and in season. A horse can and does need seasonal sugar, just not year round. So think of it like this…if my horse was wild, could he find this on his own and eat it? Yes? Ok, then feed him the fresh treat.
- Next option is to step into your DIY jeans and make treats. Sounds fun right?! This is a great way to know exactly what is in them 🙂 For healthy treat recipes might I recommend Savvy Horsewoman. She has some great
recepieson her site.
As with everything, use your best judgement and offer in moderation.
#2 Soaking your hay
What is hay? And why does it have starch? Hay is made of carbohydrates which are in two different forms. The first is non-structural carbohydrates (NSC). The science-jargon way of saying starch, which plants store within their cells. This starch becomes glucose in the gut, which is one of the fuel sources to produce energy. Thus, only non-structural carbohydrates raise the blood-glucose levels.
Hay is also made of structural carbohydrates (SC) which is the science-jargon way of saying cellulose. Within the gut, bacteria convert this into short chain fatty acids. Those become ketones which is the second fuel source to produce energy.
Hay has a ratio of both types of carbohydrates, it is dependant on many factors within the growing environment and harvesting. Key point is you cannot determine with your eye if the hay is high in sugar or not. The only real way to know for sure is to have it tested.
My quick tip is if you have any concern, just soak it. The most effective way is to submerge the hay for each meal in water. Much of the surface starch will be washed away, and the overall starch level reduced. This is a tried and true method.
Soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain and feed. It’s simple!
Many clever DIY horse owners have designed nifty systems to easily drain the water if you want to check those out. If not, simply using a small wheelbarrow or large muck bucket will to the trick.
Bonus! This trick is also extremely effective to increase your horse’s water intake to help in reducing the risk of colic and other digestive upset. A life saver in cold winter months.
#3 Become a “Green Thumb” with your pasture
I know this is a bit cheeky, but what I’m encouraging you to do is become more attentive to what the grasses in your pasture are doing.
Remember, hay is first grass growing in a pasture. So, keep in mind the two different types of carbohydrates within the plant and the ratio of each varies. It is the non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) which is converted into glucose once it is digested, and broken down by the gut microbes in the large intestine.
This is why it’s important manage your horse’s grazing time. Ultimately, you can manage the amount of glucose being produced from the fresh grasses he grazes.
I mentioned many environmental factors affect the carbohydrate ratio. One is season, but more specifically the growth stage the plant is in when it is eaten. Ok, so we all have heard; “beware of spring and/or fall grass”. Why is that? That time of year, (in most regions) is when the starch content will be the highest. In winter, the plant is in a dormant phase and stops growing, thus stops producing starch.
Without diving into the nitty-gritty of photosynthesis and exactly how plants grow, the take home message is watch out for the productive growth phase of your pasture.
Here are some action steps:
- Pay attention to the weather in early spring. Fresh growth can sneak up on you with a few weeks of warm weather.
- Reduce the time spent grazing during pasture growth times.
- When appropriate, responsibly use a grazing muzzle to limit the rate your horse consumes grass.
- If you have a dry lot, then I recommend rotating your horses from grass pasture to dry lot to provide a break in the glucose abundance.
In summary, reducing glucose in your horse’s diet will have a drastic improvement in their overall health and happiness. I’ve seen a tremendous decrease in symptoms such as, bad behavior, gut inflammation, belly sensitivity, and cinchiness simply by focusing on this one element. So, I encourage you to take the extra strides to effectively reduce the glucose your equine partner eats, because they are sweet enough without all the “extras” 🙂
Here’s to happy, healthy horses!