To reduce simple, non-structural carbohydrates in the diet (or add them) is a complicated question for many reasons; primary because horses are all so unique, but secondly, because the chemistry of carbohydrates is anything but simple! I’m a big fan of lower-carb, higher fiber diets in most cases, but there are many situations in which non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) are absolutely necessary in the diet. It will depend on your riding discipline and your horse’s physical and even emotional characteristics.
I’m going to try to make this “carb” question as simple as possible with a 6 question quiz. Simply answer the questions below and add your answers at the bottom. For example, if your answer to Question #1 is 3 (Yes), then add 3 to your total. Suggestions for a low, moderate, or high carb diet are at the bottom.
Question #1: What is the average weekly intensity of work?
- No gallops, hill climbs, or sprints included during any normal training week
- Gallops, hill climbs, or sprints are included in training 1 time per week or less (4 or fewer times per month)
- Yes- gallops, hill climbs and/or sprints are part of the weekly training program (greater than 4 times per month)
Question #2: What is your primary training goal?
- Speed and/or endurance are NOT a part of our training goals
- Speed (includes any form of racing and jumpers)
Question #3: Is your horse’s metabolism naturally fast or slow? Is he/she an “easy-keeper” or “hard-keeper”?
- Easy-keeper/slow metabolism
- Hard-keeper/fast metabolism
Question #4: What is your horse’s stage of maturity?
- Senior (over 20 years) or gestating (especially 2nd and 3rd trimester)
- Growing or lactating
Question #5: Is your horse naturally laid-back or high-strung?
- Laid-back/”needs some get-up-and-go”
Question #6: Has your horse been diagnosed with any disease that is sensitive to sugar/starch in the diet?
- Yes, my horse has been diagnosed with ulcers, laminitis/founder, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Resistance, Cushings syndrome, HYPP, PSSM or another type of tying-up syndrome
- My horse may be susceptible to metabolic, digestive or musculoskeletal disease due to genetics or lifestyle, but has not been diagnosed
- No, my horse is not sugar/starch sensitive
Now add up your answers from these 6 questions: ____________________
Highest score = 18 | Lowest score = 6
Scored 6-10 Your horse does not need additional non-structural carbohydrates in his/her diet. Vitamins and minerals are your priority, so consider products like Equis Daily 35% or Equis Ultramin with your forage. If you need to reduce the non-structural carbohydrates in the total diet consider Equis Teff Natural.
Scored 10-14 Some additional non-structural carbohydrates may be helpful in the diet. Consider Equis Element, Equis Golden Senior or Equis Rice Bran for weight management.
Scored 14-18 Your horse could benefit from non-structural carbohydrates in the diet. Add Equis Performance or Equis Generation.
When considering “how much” and “what kind” of carbohydrates to consider in your horse’s diet, you must factor in all parts of the diet. Most horse owners do not calculate the horse’s primary forage, whether that be pasture or hay, in the total non-structural carbohydrates. Below is some simple math to demonstrate the relative amounts of simple carbohydrates from each part of the diet. (The average NSC% from pasture and forage was taken from thousands of samples recorded by Equi-Analytical Laboratories, Ithica, NY). We’ll use a 1,100 lb average horse in moderate work as an example.
20 lbs of Pasture and/or Hay at 13% NSC = 20.0 x 0.13 = 2.6 lbs of non-structural carbohydrates
6 lbs of Equis Element at 18% maximum NSC = 6.0 x 0.18 = 1.1 lbs of non-structural carbohydrates
6 lbs of Equis Performance at 43% NSC = 6.0 x 0.43 = 2.6 lbs of non-structural carbohydrates
3.7 – 5.2 lbs of NSC in the total diet of 26 lbs