We all crave those sweet sugar tasty treats, but is sugar also bad for our horses? And what is the sugar level in my horses feed?
Some owners manging horses with metabolic, digestive or behavioural issues often ask the Bluegrass Horse Feeds team these questions. However, if we look at the whole diet, the answer can be a little complicated.
How is sugar used in the body?
Sugar is a carbohydrate and is digested in the small intestine into glucose, a quick release energy source. Glucose is used by the body for key functions including muscle contraction and brain activity and it is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Performance horses should have adequate sugar levels to replenish the glycogen stores used during intense exercise.
Where can sugar be found?
Sugar naturally occurs in the majority of feed stuff in our horses’ diets. Pastures contain various levels of sugar, known as water soluble carbohydrates (WSC), depending on the time of the year, geographic location and pasture management. Photosynthesis produces sugar for plants to grow, grazing or harvested forage all contain different levels of sugar and so it can be hard to work out the sugar content of the diet.
The average sugar content found in UK hay is considered between 100-310 WSC/kg DM, ideally for a low sugar diet we would like <100 WSC/kg DM. This can be achieved by treatment methods of the hay such as soaking for an extended period, or the preferred method of steaming the hay. A haylage analysis is a handy technique to give you an idea of the sugar content present.
In manufactured feeds, the sugar content is sometimes displayed on feed labels or can be provided on request. Beet pulp is the fibrous portion of the sugar beet after the sugar has been extracted. It is a high fibre, high energy source known as “super fibres”, commonly used in most equine compound feeds. Plain beet with no molasses added, has a low sugar content and can be fed to horses with insulin resistance as it does not cause a significant glycemic response once digested.
Most manufactured compound feeds contain molasses, a thick syrup derived from sugar beet or cane. Despite some opinions, there is little information on the energy value of molasses in horse feed. It is often included in compound feeds to improve palatability, enhance moistness, ease mixing or pelleting and for the ability to carry additional nutrients.
Do I need to worry about sugar in their diet?
As previously mentioned, some owners will need to consider the sugar content more than others. Horses suffering from insulin resistance, cushing’s disease (PPID) or laminitis require a low sugar or glycemic index to their diet.
The glycemic index simply means the level of glucose in the blood after a meal. A lower glycemic response is believed to create a lower insulin demand, better long-term blood glucose control, and a reduction in blood lipid. Bluegrass Horse Feeds have specialised products formulated to have a low glycemic index as part of the pro feed range. Bluegrass Re-Leve and Bluegrass Re-Solve are both scientifically designed for horses requiring low sugar and high fibre diets.
If you are concerned about the amount of sugar in your horses diet, remember it is important to analysis your forage whether that is grass, hay or haylage as well as the compound feed.
Bluegrass Horse Feeds is an Irish horse feed producer based at its mill in Eglish in County Tyrone. Bluegrass Horse Feeds, which produces quality and innovative horse feeds, is the Ireland Team Member of Kentucky Equine Research. The Bluegrass Horse Feeds team works closely with owners, riders and trainers using the latest nutritional research and technology to achieve optimum performance from their horses. Bluegrass distributes its feeds the length and breadth of Ireland and has over 200 stockists. If you need nutritional advice please fill out our diet request form and while you're here find out your nearest stockist.