A high-performing horse can have up to twice the calorie requirement as the same horse in a maintenance stage. Owners and trainers of performance horses often give more feed to meet that calorie need. Because horses can use fat as a calorie source efficiently, and fat contains more than double the calories of starch, high-fat horse feeds make perfect sense to increase the energy intake without greatly increasing the quantity of feed needed.
- Horses with a high grain ration are often at risk because elevated levels of grain feeding can cause a starch overload in the small intestine and cecum.
- Overloading the small intestine with starch allows that extra starch to pass into the cecum and large colon, which is where forage is digested.
- Fiber digestion is accomplished by the bacterial and protozoal populations residing in these organs. When starch enters the cecum, the pH drops, and this bacterial population dies.
- This can result in a cascade of events that may include colic, laminitis, and death.
Keep in mind that starch is still a crucial part of a horse’s diet and is required for proper muscle function. As horse owners, it is best to work towards an optimal balance of all nutrients in the diet, not just the use of one to replace another. A proper balance of controlled starch levels, along with increased fat levels in your horse’s feed, will help deliver a horse that is ready to go and has the fuel in the tank to keep on going.
If you need horse supplies or have any additional questions about equine nutrition, stop by your local Stockdale’s.