Join Kentucky Equine Research for a valuable webinar on Carbohydrates in Equine Nutrition. This informative video will cover all aspects of carbohydrates, including their categorization into simple sugars, storage compounds, and structural carbohydrates. You’ll learn about the digestive process in horses, the different types of carbohydrates and their energy release rates, and the importance of testing hay and pasture for nutritional value. Additionally, the webinar will discuss the management of conditions such as insulin dysregulation and equine metabolic syndrome, as well as tips for feeding breeding horses and those with specific dietary requirements. Whether you’re a horse owner, trainer, or nutritionist, this webinar is a must-watch for anyone interested in understanding the role of carbohydrates in equine nutrition. Don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity to expand your knowledge and improve the health of your beloved equines.

Table of Contents

Understanding Carbohydrates in Equine Nutrition

Carbohydrates are a vital component of a horse’s diet, providing them with energy and essential nutrients. In equine nutrition, carbohydrates are categorized into three main groups: simple sugars, storage compounds, and structural carbohydrates.

The categories of carbohydrates: simple sugars, storage, and structural

Simple sugars are the easiest form of carbohydrates for horses to digest and absorb. They are quickly broken down into monosaccharides, such as glucose or fructose, in the small intestine. Common sources of simple sugars in a horse’s diet include fruits, certain vegetables, and sugary treats.

Storage compounds, such as starch and fructans, are found in plants and serve as an energy reserve. Starch is commonly found in cereal grains like corn, oats, and barley, while fructans are found in grasses. These storage compounds are broken down into sugars and used as a source of energy when needed.

Structural carbohydrates, including cellulose and hemicellulose, are found in plant cell walls. They provide slow-release energy and are not easily digested by horses. Structural carbohydrates are commonly found in forage sources like hay and pasture grasses.

Digestion and absorption of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are digested and absorbed differently depending on their classification. Simple sugars are rapidly absorbed in the small intestine and used as a quick source of energy. Storage compounds, like starch, require enzymatic digestion in the small intestine before they can be absorbed.

Structural carbohydrates, on the other hand, are not readily digestible in the small intestine. Instead, they undergo fermentation in the hindgut, where microorganisms break them down into volatile fatty acids. These volatile fatty acids provide a slow and steady release of energy to the horse.

Energy provision by structural and non-structural carbohydrates

Structural carbohydrates, due to their slow-release properties, serve as an important source of sustained energy for horses. They provide the bulk of a horse’s diet and help maintain their body condition and overall health.

Non-structural carbohydrates, such as starch, glucose, fructans, and sugars, provide quick energy when needed. These carbohydrates have a higher glycemic response compared to structural carbohydrates, meaning they cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels. Non-structural carbohydrates are commonly found in grains, fruits, and some pasture grasses.

It is important to balance the intake of structural and non-structural carbohydrates in a horse’s diet to meet their energy requirements and prevent potential health issues.

Role of Indigestible Compounds

While carbohydrates play a crucial role in equine nutrition, there are also indigestible compounds that need to be considered. One such compound is lignin, which is found in hay and pasture grasses.

Lignin as an indigestible compound

Lignin is a complex polymer that makes up a significant portion of plant cell walls. It is indigestible by horses and other monogastric animals. Lignin provides structural support to plants and contributes to their overall rigidity. In equine nutrition, lignin can be a beneficial component in the diet of obese horses.

Benefits of lignin in obese horses

Obese horses need to maintain a sufficient volume of fiber in their diet to support their digestive health. However, excessive calorie intake can contribute to weight gain and further health complications. Lignin, being an indigestible compound, can provide the necessary volume of fiber without substantially increasing calorie intake. This allows obese horses to maintain their digestive health while managing their weight.

Common sources of structural carbohydrates

Hay and pasture grasses are common sources of structural carbohydrates in a horse’s diet. These sources provide both essential nutrients and fiber. Other sources of structural carbohydrates include chaff and super fibers like beet pulp. Super fibers such as beet pulp are highly digestible and can be beneficial for horses with specific dietary needs.

Non-Structural Carbohydrates and Glycemic Response

Non-structural carbohydrates, such as starch and sugar, have a higher glycemic response compared to structural carbohydrates. This means that when consumed, they cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels.

Higher glycemic response of non-structural carbohydrates

Non-structural carbohydrates are quickly broken down into simple sugars in the horse’s digestive system, leading to a swift and significant increase in blood glucose levels. This rapid increase triggers the release of insulin, which helps regulate blood glucose levels.

Impact of starch and sugar on equine health

The consumption of excessive amounts of non-structural carbohydrates, especially in the form of starch and sugar, can have detrimental effects on a horse’s health. In particular, horses with metabolic conditions like insulin dysregulation or equine metabolic syndrome may be more susceptible to the negative effects of high carbohydrate diets.

High levels of non-structural carbohydrates can lead to insulin dysregulation, insulin resistance, and hyperinsulinemia. These conditions increase the risk of laminitis, a severe hoof condition that can cause lameness and pain in horses. It is essential to manage carbohydrate intake and balance the diet to prevent these health issues.

Testing Carbohydrate Content and Importance

Testing the carbohydrate content of pasture and hay is crucial in determining their nutritional value and suitability for horses.

Evaluation of nutritional value and suitability

Carbohydrate testing allows horse owners and caretakers to assess the amount and type of carbohydrates present in forage sources. This information is vital in formulating diets that meet the horse’s energy requirements and prevent health issues related to carbohydrate intake.

Different forage sources, such as different types of hay or pasture grasses, can vary significantly in their carbohydrate content. By testing these sources, horse owners can make informed decisions about their horse’s diet and ensure they are receiving the appropriate amount and type of carbohydrates.

Factors influencing the selection of the right fiber source

When selecting a fiber source for horses, several factors should be taken into consideration. These include the horse’s age, body condition score, and any metabolic conditions they may have, such as insulin dysregulation or equine metabolic syndrome.

Balancing the amount and type of carbohydrates in the horse’s diet is crucial for their overall health and well-being. A well-formulated diet can help prevent laminitis recurrence, manage metabolic conditions, and support the horse’s energy needs.

Considering Horse’s Age, Body, and Metabolic Conditions for Diet

A horse’s age, body condition score, and metabolic conditions play significant roles in determining their dietary needs and requirements.

Correlation of horse’s age, body condition score with carbohydrate intake

As horses age, their dietary needs may change. Older horses may have decreased digestive efficiency and require a diet that is easier to chew and digest. Additionally, horses with a high body condition score may need to manage their carbohydrate intake to prevent obesity and related health issues.

Monitoring a horse’s body condition score and adjusting their carbohydrate intake accordingly ensures they maintain a healthy weight and receive the necessary nutrients.

Importance of metabolic conditions in horse diet

Metabolic conditions, such as insulin dysregulation and equine metabolic syndrome, can significantly impact a horse’s dietary requirements. These conditions often require a careful balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and nutrients to avoid health complications.

Horses with insulin dysregulation are more susceptible to laminitis, and their diets should be managed to prevent excessive carbohydrate intake. Equine metabolic syndrome, characterized by obesity and insulin dysregulation, requires careful regulation of calorie intake and exercise to maintain a healthy weight and metabolic function.

Considering a horse’s age, body condition score, and metabolic conditions when formulating their diet ensures their specific nutritional needs are met and helps prevent potential health issues.

Risks and Preventive Strategies for Laminitis

Laminitis is a severe hoof condition that can cause lameness and extreme pain in horses. A balanced diet plays a crucial role in preventing laminitis recurrence.

Role of balanced diet to prevent laminitis recurrence

Laminitis can be triggered or exacerbated by excessive carbohydrate intake, especially in horses with insulin dysregulation or equine metabolic syndrome. A balanced diet, tailored to the individual horse’s needs, helps prevent spikes in blood glucose levels and promotes overall metabolic health.

By carefully managing the inclusion rate of carbohydrates and other nutrients in the horse’s diet, laminitis recurrence can be minimized. In some cases, a low-carbohydrate diet may be necessary to help manage the horse’s condition effectively.

Insulin dysregulation and hyperinsulinemia as risk factors for laminitis

Insulin dysregulation, a condition in which the horse’s body does not properly control its insulin levels, increases the risk of laminitis. Hyperinsulinemia, characterized by an excess of insulin in the bloodstream, is often associated with insulin dysregulation.

High levels of insulin can disrupt the blood flow to the hooves, leading to laminitis. Managing insulin dysregulation and hyperinsulinemia through diet and other strategies is essential in preventing laminitis and promoting overall hoof health.

Insulin Dysregulation Factors and Solutions

Managing insulin dysregulation in horses requires addressing the factors that contribute to its development and finding suitable solutions to improve insulin sensitivity.

Impact of high non-structural carbohydrate content on insulin

High levels of non-structural carbohydrates, such as starch and sugar, can contribute to insulin dysregulation in horses. These carbohydrates, when rapidly digested and absorbed, lead to spikes in blood glucose levels and subsequent insulin release.

Limiting the intake of high-carbohydrate feeds and focusing on forage sources that provide slow-release energy can help prevent insulin dysregulation. Balancing a horse’s diet with appropriate levels of carbohydrates and other nutrients ensures their insulin levels remain stable.

Improvement of insulin sensitivity using long-chain omega-3 fatty acids

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in horses. These fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and can help regulate the horse’s metabolic function.

Supplementing a horse’s diet with long-chain omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for managing insulin dysregulation and promoting overall metabolic health. Consultation with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist is recommended to determine the appropriate dosage and duration of supplementation.

Identification and Management of Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Equine metabolic syndrome is a metabolic disorder characterized by obesity, insulin dysregulation, and an increased risk of laminitis. Early identification and proper management of this condition are essential for the horse’s overall health.

Prevalence of equine metabolic syndrome

Studies have shown that approximately one-third of horses may develop equine metabolic syndrome by the age of 20. The prevalence of this condition emphasizes the importance of early detection and intervention.

Regular monitoring of a horse’s body condition and metabolic parameters, such as insulin levels, can help identify the presence of equine metabolic syndrome and guide appropriate management strategies.

Early symptoms of Ppid and its management

Equine metabolic syndrome can present with various symptoms, including obesity, abnormal fat deposits, insulin dysregulation, and increased water intake. These early symptoms should be closely monitored and addressed to prevent the development of more severe conditions, such as laminitis.

Managing equine metabolic syndrome involves a combination of dietary changes, exercise, and close monitoring of insulin levels. Weight management is crucial in reducing the risk of metabolic disorders and promoting overall metabolic health.

Role of controlled calorie intake and exercise in managing metabolic syndrome

Controlling calorie intake and providing regular exercise are key factors in managing equine metabolic syndrome. A balanced diet with appropriate levels of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals is essential for long-term care.

Exercise stimulates metabolism and helps maintain a healthy weight. Gradual increases in exercise intensity and duration can improve insulin sensitivity and overall metabolic function in horses with metabolic syndrome.

Dietary Management of Equine Metabolic Conditions

Equine metabolic conditions, such as insulin dysregulation and equine metabolic syndrome, require careful dietary management to promote overall health and prevent related complications.

Importance of balanced diet

A balanced diet, tailored to the individual horse’s needs, is crucial for managing equine metabolic conditions. The diet should focus on providing low-glycemic, high-fiber forage sources, such as low-sugar hay or pasture grasses.

Incorporating adequate levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals into the diet is essential for supporting overall metabolic health and preventing nutritional deficiencies.

Role of supplements for equine health

Certain supplements can provide additional benefits for horses with metabolic conditions. Vitamin E, for example, has antioxidant properties that support overall health and immune function.

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, as mentioned earlier, can improve insulin sensitivity and have anti-inflammatory effects in horses. Supplementation with these fatty acids may be beneficial, but it is important to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to determine the appropriate dosage and duration.

Testing hay for sugar content and soaking method

Testing the sugar content of hay is important for managing equine metabolic conditions. High-sugar hay can be detrimental to the health of horses with insulin dysregulation or equine metabolic syndrome. Low-sugar hay or soaking hay in water before feeding can reduce the sugar content and make it more suitable for these horses.

It is important to carefully monitor the soaking time to prevent excessive nutrient loss. Soaking hay for 30 minutes to one hour can reduce the sugar content without significantly affecting the overall nutritional value.


Maintaining the health and nutrition of horses is a complex task that requires careful consideration of various factors. Regular exercise, monitoring of body condition, and consultation with a veterinarian and equine nutritionist are essential in managing equine health and nutrition.

Understanding the different categories of carbohydrates and their roles in equine nutrition is crucial for formulating a balanced diet. Testing carbohydrate content in forage sources and selecting the right fiber source based on the horse’s age, body condition, and metabolic conditions are key considerations.

Preventing laminitis recurrence, managing insulin dysregulation, and addressing equine metabolic syndrome require a holistic approach to diet management. Providing a balanced diet, incorporating appropriate supplements, and regularly monitoring the horse’s parameters are important preventive strategies.

Achieving optimal equine health and nutrition is a collaborative effort that involves the expertise of professionals in the field. Regularly consulting with a veterinarian and equine nutritionist ensures the horse’s unique needs are met and their overall well-being is maintained.