In the world of equine nutrition, the topic of carbohydrates in horse feed has become a hot topic of discussion. With the rise of issues such as insulin dysregulation, laminitis, and other disorders, it’s important for horse owners to have a clear understanding of the role carbohydrates play in their horse’s diet. In this video, Dr. Katie Young, Equine Nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition, breaks down the different types of carbohydrates, explains their importance, and offers recommendations on how to control them. From the benefits of nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) to managing NSC levels in equine diets, Dr. Young provides valuable insights based on extensive research and expertise in the field. So, if you’re interested in debunking common myths and learning how to optimize your horse’s carbohydrate intake, this video is a must-watch.

Table of Contents

Understanding Carbohydrates in Horse Feed

Carbohydrates are an essential component of a horse’s diet and provide them with the energy they need to perform their daily activities. There are two main types of carbohydrates: structural and nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC). Structural carbohydrates, such as cellulose and hemicellulose, are found in plants’ cell walls and are primarily obtained through forage. On the other hand, NSC, which include sugars and starches, are easily digestible and provide a quick source of energy for horses.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates in horse feed can be classified into three main groups: sugars, starches, and fibers. Sugars, such as glucose and fructose, provide horses with quick bursts of energy but should be consumed in moderation. Starches, found in grains like oats and corn, are another source of energy for horses. However, excessive consumption of starches can lead to health issues. Fibers, such as cellulose and hemicellulose, are an essential part of a horse’s diet as they promote proper digestion and maintain a healthy gut.

Importance of Nonstructural Carbohydrates (NSC)

Nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) play a crucial role in providing horses with the energy they need to perform physical tasks. NSC can be readily metabolized by the horse’s body, ensuring a quick release of energy. However, it is important to monitor the NSC content in a horse’s diet, as excessive NSC consumption can have adverse effects on their health.

Role of NSC in a Healthy Horse’s Diet

In a healthy horse’s diet, NSC should be carefully balanced to ensure optimal performance and well-being. NSC serve as a primary energy source, fueling the horse’s muscles during exercise. They also contribute to the horse’s metabolic processes, including the functioning of the nervous system. However, an excessive intake of NSC can disrupt the horse’s digestive system, leading to health issues such as colic, laminitis, and metabolic disorders.

Misconceptions About Carbohydrates in Horse Feed

Common Misconceptions about Carbohydrate Content

There are several common misconceptions surrounding the carbohydrate content in horse feed. Some horse owners believe that a high-carbohydrate diet is necessary for athletic performance, while others think that a low-carbohydrate diet is always preferable. It is important to clarify these misconceptions to ensure a balanced and appropriate diet for horses.

Origins of Misinformation

Misinformation about carbohydrates in horse feed can stem from various sources, including outdated research, rumors, and anecdotal evidence. It is crucial to rely on scientifically supported information and consult with equine nutritionists or veterinarians to avoid falling victim to these misconceptions.

Effects of Misinformation on Equine Nutrition

Following misinformation about carbohydrates in horse feed can have negative consequences for the horse’s health and performance. Feeding horses with an imbalanced or inappropriate diet can lead to various health issues, including weight gain or loss, digestive problems, lameness, and metabolic disorders. It is crucial to understand the facts and make informed decisions about horse nutrition.

Carbohydrates in Horse Feed - Myths and Recommendations

Risks of Nonstructural Carbohydrates (NSC)

Potential Health Risks of Excessive NSC

Consuming excessive amounts of NSC can pose several health risks for horses. One of the primary concerns is the development of laminitis, a painful and potentially debilitating hoof condition. Laminitis can result from an insulin response triggered by high NSC levels in the diet. Horses may also experience digestive issues and an increased risk of metabolic disorders, such as equine metabolic syndrome or Cushing’s disease.

Identifying Signs of Too Much NSC in Diet

It is essential to be able to identify signs that a horse’s diet may contain too much NSC. Common signs of excessive NSC intake include weight gain or loss, lethargy, abnormal hoof growth or lameness, and changes in behavior. Regular monitoring of these signs, along with NSC analysis of feed, can help horse owners assess and adjust their horse’s diet accordingly.

Long-Term Effects of NSC Overconsumption

Long-term overconsumption of NSC can have detrimental effects on a horse’s well-being. It can lead to the development of insulin resistance and other metabolic disorders, compromising the horse’s overall health and longevity. Additionally, horses may struggle to maintain a healthy body condition and may experience fluctuations in energy levels and performance.

Special Attention for Unique Situations

Instances Where Lower Carbohydrates May Be Beneficial

While moderate NSC levels are generally recommended for most horses, there are certain situations in which a lower-carbohydrate diet may be beneficial. For example, horses with specific medical conditions like equine metabolic syndrome or Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSM) may require a controlled diet with reduced NSC content. Additionally, horses that are prone to laminitis or have a history of metabolic disorders may benefit from a diet focused on low NSC intake.

Tailoring Feed for Special Conditions

When horses have unique dietary needs, it is crucial to tailor their feed accordingly. Working closely with equine nutritionists or veterinarians, horse owners can develop specialized diets that address specific medical conditions or performance goals. These diets may involve selecting suitable forage and concentrates, managing NSC levels, and ensuring adequate protein, vitamin, and mineral content.

Advice for Managing Unique Dietary Needs

Managing unique dietary needs requires careful consideration and attention to detail. It may involve implementing strict portion control, utilizing specially formulated feeds or supplements, and closely monitoring the horse’s body condition and performance. Regular communication with equine professionals is essential to ensure that the horse’s dietary needs are consistently met and adjusted as necessary.

Carbohydrates in Horse Feed - Myths and Recommendations

Managing NSC in Equine Diets

Proper Control and Balance of NSC

To maintain a healthy level of NSC in a horse’s diet, it is crucial to have proper control and balance. This involves carefully selecting forages and concentrates that provide an appropriate NSC profile, regularly analyzing feed for NSC content, and adjusting the diet accordingly. Balancing NSC intake with other essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals ensures a well-rounded diet for the horse.

Balance of Sugars, Starches, and Fibers

Achieving appropriate NSC levels requires balancing the intake of sugars, starches, and fibers. By selecting forages with lower sugar content, choosing grains with lower starch content, and incorporating high-fiber feed sources like beet pulp or haylage, horse owners can create a diet that maintains healthy NSC levels.

How to Achieve Healthier NSC Levels in Diet

To achieve healthier NSC levels in a horse’s diet, it is essential to focus on quality forage, gradually introduce concentrates if necessary, and choose grains and supplements that are specifically formulated to provide controlled NSC content. Regular monitoring of NSC levels in feed, along with observation of the horse’s body condition and performance, will help determine if adjustments are needed.

Importance of Good Feeding Management

Role of Feeding Frequency and Quantity

Good feeding management plays a vital role in a horse’s overall health and well-being. Feeding frequency and quantity should be carefully determined based on the horse’s energy requirements, individual metabolism, and activity level. Providing smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day better mimics a horse’s natural grazing behavior and helps maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Maintaining a Balanced Diet

Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial for ensuring a horse’s optimal health. This involves considering factors such as available forage quality, concentrate selection, and specific nutrient requirements for the horse’s age, activity level, and overall health. By following a balanced diet, horse owners can help prevent nutritional deficiencies or imbalances that may impact the horse’s performance and well-being.

Implementing Solid Feeding Practices

Implementing solid feeding practices involves a systematic approach to feeding that takes into account each horse’s individual needs. It includes providing clean and fresh feed and water, monitoring for any changes in appetite or eating habits, and considering factors such as social hierarchy during group feeding situations. Maintaining consistency and routine in feeding practices helps reduce stress and promotes healthy digestion.

Carbohydrates in Horse Feed - Myths and Recommendations

Recognizing Carb Sensitive Horses

Identifying Symptoms of Carbohydrate Sensitivity

Carbohydrate sensitivity in horses can manifest in various ways, and recognizing the symptoms is crucial for managing their diet effectively. Common signs of carbohydrate sensitivity include weight gain or loss, abnormal fat deposits, cresty neck, laminitis episodes, and abnormal glucose and insulin responses. Close observation of the horse’s body condition and behavior, along with consultation with a veterinarian, can aid in identifying carbohydrate sensitivity.

Special Dietary Considerations for Carb Sensitive Horses

Carb sensitive horses require special dietary considerations to prevent the development of health issues associated with carbohydrate intake. A diet featuring low NSC content, including controlled access to pasture, carefully selected forage and concentrates, and the inclusion of suitable supplements, can help manage their condition. Regular monitoring of the horse’s body condition and bloodwork is essential to ensure the effectiveness of the dietary plan.

Managing Carb Sensitivity With Diet Modification

Managing carbohydrate sensitivity involves modifying the horse’s diet to minimize the risk of health issues. This may include feeding low NSC forages such as soaked hay or hay replacers, utilizing high-fiber concentrates, and incorporating specialized supplements to support metabolic function. Careful monitoring and gradual adjustments to the diet will help maintain stable blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of laminitis and other associated conditions.

Role of Ingredients in Feed

Understanding the NSC Levels in Different Feed Ingredients

Different feed ingredients contribute to the overall NSC levels in a horse’s diet. Understanding the NSC content of various grains, forages, and concentrates is crucial for managing the horse’s carbohydrate intake. Analyzing and comparing the NSC content of different ingredients can help horse owners make informed decisions about feed selection and formulation.

How Different Grains Contribute to NSC

Grains like oats, corn, and barley are common ingredients in horse feed and can significantly impact NSC levels. Oats are generally considered a low NSC grain, while corn tends to have higher levels. Horse owners should carefully select grain sources based on their horse’s specific dietary needs and the desired NSC content.

Importance of Understanding NSC Content in Feed Ingredients

Understanding the NSC content in feed ingredients is essential for maintaining a balanced diet. Together with consideration of the horse’s dietary goals and requirements, knowing the NSC levels helps horse owners select appropriate ingredients and create a feed formulation tailored to the horse’s needs. This understanding also allows for adjustments to the diet when necessary, ensuring optimal health and performance.

Carbohydrates in Horse Feed - Myths and Recommendations

Impact of Forage on Total Diet

NSC Levels in Various Types of Forage (hay, grasses, etc.)

Forage is a critical component of a horse’s diet, and its NSC content can vary depending on the type and maturity of the forage. In general, mature grass hay tends to have lower NSC levels compared to legume hays like alfalfa. Understanding the NSC levels in different forage options is crucial for balancing the overall NSC intake in a horse’s diet.

Balancing NSC Levels in Equine Diet by Looking at Both Concentrate and Forage

To achieve proper NSC balance in a horse’s diet, it is important to consider both the NSC content of concentrates and forage. By pairing a low NSC concentrate with forage that also has a suitable NSC profile, horse owners can achieve a balanced and controlled carbohydrate intake. Regular testing of forage and concentrates for NSC levels allows for adjustments to be made as needed.

Identifying Forages with High NSC Levels to Avoid

Horses with specific dietary needs, such as those prone to laminitis or metabolic disorders, should avoid forages with high NSC levels. Alfalfa, for example, tends to have higher NSC content compared to grass hay. By selecting forages with lower NSC levels, horse owners can minimize the risk of health issues associated with carbohydrate sensitivity.

Addressing Individual Nutritional Needs

Tailoring Diets for Individual Horses’ Requirements

Every horse has unique nutritional requirements, and it is essential to tailor their diet accordingly. Factors such as age, level of activity, body condition, and overall health should be considered when determining the appropriate nutrient composition and calorie intake for each horse. Regular assessments, consultation with equine professionals, and adjustments to the diet ensure that individual nutritional needs are met.

Taking Into Account Medical Conditions when Planning Diets

When planning diets for horses with existing medical conditions, such as equine metabolic syndrome or digestive disorders, careful consideration of the condition’s dietary implications is necessary. Collaboration between horse owners, veterinarians, and equine nutritionists allows for the development of specialized dietary plans that address specific health concerns while meeting the horse’s nutritional needs.

Meeting Nutritional Needs While Avoiding Aggravation of Medical Conditions

Meeting a horse’s nutritional needs while avoiding the aggravation of existing medical conditions requires a comprehensive approach. This may involve providing controlled intake of certain nutrients, including managing NSC levels, selecting suitable supplements, and monitoring the horse’s body condition and overall wellness. By closely monitoring the horse’s response and adjusting the diet as necessary, horse owners can effectively manage their horse’s medical conditions through nutrition.

In conclusion, understanding carbohydrates in horse feed is essential for maintaining a horse’s overall health, performance, and well-being. By considering the types and balance of carbohydrates, addressing misconceptions, managing NSC levels, employing good feeding practices, recognizing carbohydrate sensitivity, and tailoring diets to individual nutritional needs, horse owners can provide their horses with the optimal nutrition required for a healthy and happy life. Consulting with equine professionals and staying informed about the latest research will ensure that horse owners make well-informed decisions regarding their horse’s feed and nutrition.

In this video, Dr. Katie Young, an Equine Nutritionist with Purina, will debunk common myths about the carbohydrate content in a typical horse’s diet. She will also provide recommendations on how to effectively control your horse’s carbohydrate intake.


Purina Animal Nutrition is known for its expertise in equine research and feed development. Our team of PhD equine nutritionists formulates feed that caters to the nutritional needs of horses at every life stage.

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Carbohydrates in Horse Feed - Myths and Recommendations