Does Low-Starch Horse Feed Equal Low-Calorie?

Find out why a horse might gain weight when switched to a feed marketed as “low-starch.”
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Does Low-Starch Horse Feed Equal Low-Calorie
Horses that aren’t working relatively hard are unlikely to need concentrate feeds high in starch, so reducing starch is a good idea as work levels decrease. | Photo: iStock

Q.I don’t ride as much during the winter as I do in the summer. To compensate for my horse’s reduced workload and prevent weight gain, I recently switched him from 4 pounds of performance feed a day to 4 pounds of a low-starch feed. Despite the switch, he’s gaining weight. Why is he gaining weight on a low-starch feed?

—Via e-mail

A.Horses that aren’t working relatively hard are unlikely to need concentrate feeds high in starch, so reducing starch is a good idea as work levels decrease. However, weight maintenance is a function of calories consumed versus calories burned. If calories consumed exceed those used the horse will gain weight. Conversely, if a horse’s caloric intake is less than the calories he uses, he will lose weight. There are many potential sources of calories in a ration other than starch, so decreasing starch intake might not decrease a horse’s overall calorie consumption

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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.

One Response

  1. Dr. thunes,
    My 9 year old Appaloosa is an easy keeper and was just diagnosed with IR-Insulin Resistance. We are looking for a feed that is low in sugar, low carbs and low in calories. What would you recommend. She is pastured and has 24/7 availability to good grass. We are reducing her amount of intake of hay as well as soaking her hay.
    V/R,
    Sarah

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