What you should know about horses and sugar

What you should know about horses and sugar


All horses need sugar for general good health and performance.

Sugar delivers energy that the muscles need to work properly. No sugar, no performance. For healthy horses, normal quantities of sugar present no problem. However, too much sugar is not good for anyone. Balance is key. In this blog article we’ll discuss this topic in detail.

Sugar is found in every feed ration, even one that consists entirely of roughage, because sugar is present in grass. Therefore, every type of roughage and concentrate feed will contain sugar. Sugars are short-chained carbohydrates,  as are starches. Carbohydrates are a horse’s major natural source of energy.

All horses need sugar

So what’s the deal with sugar and horse feed?

A horse’s body converts sugar (carbohydrates) into energy in several ways. Sugar consists of fructose and glucose. Fructose is broken down in the liver, whilst glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream. Glucose acts as a fuel for the muscles. We know, then, that horses need sugar to have enough energy for physical activity.

Sugar in and of itself is not dangerous for horses. The presence of carbohydrates in your horse’s feed is therefore logical and natural, but too much sugar can lead to health problems. An important rule of thumb: don’t give your horse more energy than it needs.

What are sugar sources for my horse?

A major source of sugar for horses is from cereals in concentrate feeds. These are full of starches which are converted into glucose. Another sugar source in concentrate feed is molasses, which can be a source of glucose depending on how much is added (5-10%). Don’t forget that roughage also contains sugar.

The largest part of your horse’s feed ration is made up of roughage. Roughage’s sugar and starch content is something often overlooked in the attempt to design low-sugar rations. Horses actually get their basic sugar requirement from roughage.

Sugar Starch Sugar and fructan
Cereals (oats, maize, wheat, barley)

0,5 – 4%
35-70%
Molasses
40 – 50%
Hay
0,2 – 3%
7 – 16%

Haylage 0,6 – 2,5 %

7 – 11 %

Fresh grass 0,03 – 4 %

4-14% > depending on season

Many horses don’t need any additional sugar for normal work. However, if your aim is achieving optimum athletic performance from your horse, you may need to supplement his feed with concentrates. And concentrates are an essential part of a high-performance sport horse’s diet.

Feed your horse no more than 2 g of sugar and starch per kilogramme of body weight and per ration – don’t give your horse more energy than it needs.

How much sugar should my horse consume?

Most sport horses can eat a certain amount of sugar and starch – in fact, they need this energy source. Studies show that 1-2 grammes per kg of body weight and per feed ration can be easily digested in the small intestine. This means that a healthy 600 kg horse should be given a maximum of 1.2 kg sugar and starch per concentrate feed ration.

It is also worth noting that a horse can take in a relatively large amount of nutrients without this leading to problems. However, digestion takes time, so give your horse’s small intestine the time it needs to absorb all nutrients, including sugar and starch. You can ensure this by feeding your horse several small meals daily.

An example:

A healthy horse (warmblood) weighing 600 kg in medium-level dressage training. He gets 9 kg hay (2% starch, 10% sugar), 1 kg Cavalor FiberForce, and 1 kg Cavalor Endurix, divided over five rations (hay – concentrate feed – hay – concentrate feed – hay). How many grammes of sugar and starch is this rider giving his horse per ration?

Feed Sugar / starch %
Quantity Total
Hay, 3 kg 10% – 2% 300 gr + 60 gr 360 gr
0,5 kg Cavalor FiberForce0,5 kg Cavalor Endurix 3% – 5%4,5% – 27,5% 15 gr + 25 gr22,5 gr + 137,5 gr 200 gr
Hay, 3 kg 10% – 2% 300 gr + 60 gr 360 gr
0,5 kg Cavalor FiberForce0,5 kg Cavalor Endurix 3% – 5%4,5% – 27,5% 15 gr + 25 gr22,5 gr + 137,5 gr 200 gr
Hay, 3 kg 10% – 2% 300 gr + 60 gr 360 gr

Would you like to know how much roughage/concentrate feed your horse needs based on training intensity? Then visit www.mycavalor.com. With just a few clicks you can find out which feed ration is best for you.

When should you worry about sugar?

If your horse is healthy, there’s no need to worry. Make sure that energy intake corresponds with his energy requirement.

Which horses benefit from low-sugar feed rations?

  • Horses that are often prone to gastrointestinal problems, including gastric ulcers, colic and watery stool
  • Horses with metabolic problems, such as
    Insulin dysregulation
    Obesity
    Laminitis
    EMS
    Muscle diseases (PSSM, RER)

Obesity and associated metabolic disorders like laminitis are primarily caused by excess sugar consumption in relation to physical activity. These horses are helped by low-sugar feeds and more exercise!