In partnership with Dodson & Horrell

The sugar content of your horse’s diet can be a confusing subject. Dr Laura Wilson (BVM&S MRCVS), technical adviser at Dodson & Horrell, shares why sugars are important to your horse’s diet and how much he needs.

Carbohydrates in the horse’s diet can be split into two groups based on the way that they are digested:

1. Water soluble carbohydrates (WSCs)

These are offten referred to as the sugar content of the horse’s diet. They are hydrolysed into simple sugars by enzymes, and then absorbed in the small intestine.

2. Structural carbohydrates

These undergo bacterial fermentation to produce volatile fatty acids, which are then absorbed and able to be used as a source of energy.

Sugar’s role in the horse’s diet

It is important to limit sugar intake in horses who are overweight or prone to weight gain. An excess of sugar in the diet has strong links to several metabolic, digestive and orthopaedic disorders.

Many horses will likely receive enough energy for their workload from a low-sugar diet – often forage with a balancer to top up vitamin and mineral levels being sufficient. That said, sugar is not always the enemy. It can be an important energy source for performance and racehorses who require higher levels of sugar and starch in their diet to fuel performance.

How much sugar is OK?

It is important to tailor your horse’s sugar intake to their body condition, history of any related medical disorders and level of activity. An excess of sugar can lead to weight gain, increase in the likelihood of developing associated diseases, and increase energy which can lead to excitably.

Owners often increase the amount of feed given to their horses over the winter months, assuming they need the extra energy to maintain body temperature. However, it might be that the horse is ridden less and stabled overnight, therefore expending less energy in total, despite the colder temperatures.

Have you heard about Your Horse’s #FitNotFat campaign, which is supported by Dodson & Horrell? Equine obesity is an enormous welfare problem and we’re on a mission to provide owners and riders with the knowledge, skills and information you need to keep your horse in tip-top health. It could be life saving! Find out more

Dodson & Horrell offers personalised feeding advice from its friendly Nutritional Helpline via LiveChat, email or on the phone.

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