Starch in Horse Diets

Although it can be damaging if fed improperly, starch can be an important part of horse diets. Here’s what you should know.
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starch in horse diets
Feeding smaller grain meals more frequently can help reduce the risk of horses developing issues such as colic or laminitis. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Starch is a highly digestible energy form and can provide horses with energy they need for exercise, growth, metabolism, and other life functions. However, when fed improperly, this nonstructural carbohydrate can be detrimental to your horse’s health.

Most of the energy contained in grains, such as corn and oats, and a percentage of the energy from forage is starch. During digestion, starch is broken down primarily in the horse’s small intestine by an enzyme called amylase. This process efficiently produces glucose, a type of simple sugar essential for fueling some bodily functions.

The amount of starch consumed at one time also affects the amount of starch digested in the small intestine. If starch is not digested in the small intestine (which occurs when large amounts of starches are fed at once), it passes through the digestive tract and is fermented in the large intestine. This fermentation process, while less efficient than digestion in the small intestine, also produces energy to keep the horse’s body functioning

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Written by:

Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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