Feeding sugar to your horse: is it all bad news?

The occasional polo mint won't do your horse any harm, but what about the hidden sugars in our horse's hard feed and forage? More and more horse owners are aware of the impact of sugar and starch on their horses, but are there any simple ways you can reduce his sugar intake? The nutritonists at Haygain say yes!

Sometimes your hay has more sugar than you might think

Sometimes your hay has more sugar than you might think

Unfortunately, horse feeds (including course mixes and forages) all contain more sugar than they used to, which means horses are eating far more than they need.

The sugars in horse feed are known as water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) and too much can lead to diet-related metabolic disorders.

As well as weight gain, too much sugar can lead to more serious health implications for horses such as Laminitis, Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance.

Horses that gain weight easily or that may have a predisposition to metabolic disorders need to have a sugar-reduced diet.

Hay in the UK typically ranges from 100-310g WSC/kg DM but to find low-sugar forage it needs to contain <100g WSC/kg DM or it must go through a process to reduce the sugar content.

5 simple ways to reduce his sugar intake 

1. Soak his hay

A method that has long been used to reduce sugar is to soak hay for long periods. This does reduce the WSC but it is not consistent; losses can range from 9 to 54% after being soaked for 16 hours. Once hay has been soaked, the water that remains is also a strong pollutant so it must be carefully disposed of. Recently it's been discovered that soaking hay increases its bacterial content, reducing the hygienic quality of the forage. 

2. Or steam it instead

Bacteria and moulds are killed in hay that has been steamed, creating hygienically clean forage for your horse. Steaming also reduces the sugar content to a degree, but not to the same level that soaking will do.

3. Get his forage analysed

Where possible, finding turnout with low-sugar, high-fibre grasses such as Meadow Grass, Yorkshire Fog and Common Bent will help. If you are concerned about how much sugar is in your forage, you can send a sample to a laboratory for testing. You can also send samples that have been steamed, if you’d like to check if it is suitable for your horse.

4. Reduce his grass consumption

Low-sugar feed brands

Low-sugar feed brands

Reducing turnout time or restricting grazing, so that your horse eats less grass out in the field, and cutting down hard feed can be much easier than finding hygienically clean forage that is low in sugar. But horses and ponies digestive systems are designed to constantly take in food so it's important not to restrict forage consumption too much. Preventing this natural feeding behaviour can lead to gastric ulcers and stereotypic behaviours as a stress coping mechanism.

5. Switch to low-sugar feeds

Feeding low-sugar, high-fibre forage and cutting concentrate feeds will help to reduce his overall sugar intake. Consult an independent equine nutritionist to determine what sugar-feeds might work for your horse.

For more information about Haygain and to find out other benefits of steaming hay, visit www.haygain.co.uk