Low-NSC Horse Feeds: What Kind Does My Horse Need?

Our nutritionist helps a reader make sense of horse feeds advertised as low-sugar, low-starch, lite, and more.
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Low-NSC Horse Feeds: What Kind Does My Horse Need?
It’s tempting to focus on the grain in the diet; however, don’t to forget about the forage in the ration. Selecting an appropriate commercial feed won’t have as much an effect in managing the condition if the forage in the diet provides far too much starch or sugar.| Photo: iStock

Q. My horse was recently diagnosed with a metabolic condition and now must consume a low-starch, low-sugar diet. I currently feed a regular performance feed, because he’s in moderate to hard work and not the easiest of keepers. I have been looking for a different feed and have found a number with words like “low-starch,” “lite,” “low-carb,” and “safe” in their name. Would one of these be appropriate for my horse?

A. It’s generally recommended that horses with conditions such as insulin resistance (IR), equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), and polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) consume diets low in starch and sugar.

Most horse owners are familiar with the fact that traditional grains such as oats and corn contain high levels of starch (40 to 60%), as do some commercial performance feeds. It’s tempting to focus on the grain in the diet; however, don’t to forget about the forage in the ration. Selecting an appropriate commercial feed won’t have as much an effect in managing the condition if the forage in the diet provides far too much starch or sugar. Ideally, have your forage tested to ensure it’s low in starch and sugar; if you can’t have it tested, consider soaking to lower the sugar

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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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