Olivia Colton MSc, Senior Nutritionist at Feedmark, explains why starch is important in your horse’s diet and gives five key facts about when to feed it.
Starch is often seen as a bad thing to feed to horses but, although it can be damaging if fed in excess, starch is a vital part of the equine diet and is present in most plant matter.
It's in high quantities in cereals and in lower volumes in forage and grass, so knowing when to feed it is important.
1. Why is starch important?
Starch is digested in the small intestine, producing glucose (a sugar). This glucose is stored in your horse’s muscles as glycogen and is used to fuel exercise and normal bodily processes.
2. How much starch does your horse need?
Horses in light work probably don’t need too much starch in the diet, and usually do well on high-fibre feeds.
Those in hard work will benefit from starch-rich feeds to maximise muscle glycogen stores. Feeding starch will also speed up post-exercise recovery.
3. Is there a risk to feeding high amounts of starch?
Horses on high-starch diets will be more likely to suffer from gastric ulcers. If large high-starch feeds are given, there's a chance of starch reaching the hind gut undigested, which can lead to colic, hind gut acidosis and laminitis.
High-starch diets are not recommended for horses with metabolic and muscular problems, including EMS, Cushing’s and Rhabdomyolysis.
4. How do you mediate the risks of feeding starch?
If your horse is in hard work and needs a starchy feed to supply him with energy, try to feed many small feeds rather than two big ones.
It's also recommended to feed these meals with a fibre source, to slow passage through the digestive tract.
Feed processed grains (those that have been rolled, crushed etc.) as these are easier to digest, meaning less will get to the hind gut undigested.
5. What about feeding your horse oil?
If a horse’s body gets accustomed to using oil as an energy source, they can use this to fuel low-intensity exercise, which means that the glycogen stores in the muscles are used more slowly.
For more advice and tips on horse nutrition visit www.feedmark.com
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