Choosing Horse Treats With Lower NSC Values

An equine nutritionist’s advice on choosing treats for horses and ponies that might be prone to insulin dysregulation, obesity, or EMS.
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chunky pony grazing in field
Treats with low NSC values are safer for obese horses and ponies. | Getty images

Q: My daughter has a show pony she loves to spoil with the fancy treats from the tack store, but I think they seem very unhealthy for him. Should I be concerned about her feeding him these almost daily? Is there a better treat option I can recommend?

A:  Many of us, no matter our age, tend to have a soft spot for giving treats to our horses, myself included. It makes us feel good to see them look at us so lovingly. While the reality is a couple of sugary treats a day are unlikely to harm most horses, safer options exist.

The amount of sugar in a regular sized treat is a tiny portion of the pony’s total diet and likely a very small portion of the total sugar being consumed. Therefore, I would not be overly concerned. However, I would feel differently if the pony had a history of laminitis or was actively laminitic because in these situations, we try to remove all unwanted sugar from the diet.

Given that ponies are often prone to becoming insulin dysregulated, obese, and metabolic, the smart choice would be to find treats that have a lower sugar content. Luckily, a number of what appear to be yummy-looking treats have low nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC) levels and would be safer choices.

Try to find treats that have an NSC value of less than 12%. Be careful though, because many treat manufacturers use words in their names or descriptions that would lead you to believe they are low in NSC when, in fact, they are not. Look for treats with guaranteed NSC levels.

At the end of the day, if we do right by our horses, they will love us whether we feed them treats or not. What treats often give us is a moment of connection with our horse that perhaps we don’t have at other times. Acknowledging this can be a step toward creating meaningful relationships with our horses.


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Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

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