Feed the Breed: Consider Breed, Type When Designing Equine Diets

We must consider the breeds of our horses and ponies when planning their diets. Here’s a look at what we currently know about feeding major equid categories and where we’re heading.
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Feed the Breed: Consider Breed, Type when Designing Equine Diets
Draft horses prone to polysaccharide storage myopathy can graze on pasture as long as they're consuming enough fat and not overweight. | Photo: iStock

Whether donkey or draft, pony or horse, equid class dictates proper diet

Donkeys aren’t ponies. Ponies aren’t short horses. And drafts aren’t oversized lightbreeds. We know not all equids are created alike, but we’re not just talking about their height and shape. Certain breeds and types of horses are prone to metabolize their food slower or faster than others or develop diet-related disorders. In a recent study, for instance, researchers from the University of Melbourne, in Australia, discovered that different equine breeds have different insulin responses to oral glucose (insulin helps transport this crucial energy source throughout the body). Insulin levels can contribute to a variety of conditions, such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), insulin dysregulation, and laminitis.

In short, we must consider the breeds of our horses and ponies when planning their diets. Let’s take a look at what we currently know about feeding major equid categories and where we’re heading.

Mules and Donkeys

The domestic donkey’s ancestors evolved as browsers and grazers, surviving on low-energy fibrous plants. “Donkeys would travel for many miles to obtain food, spending 14 to 18 hours per day foraging over distances of 20 to 30 kilometers (about 12 to 18 miles),” says Faith Burden, PhD, director of research and operational support at The Donkey Sanctuary, in the U.K. Modern-day donkeys rarely have the opportunity to perform this combination of natural behaviors

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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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