Ponies are notorious for seeming to gain weight by even looking at a lush grassy pasture, but some of the more active ones need more energy than what’s supplied via forage alone. But how do you keep these insulin-resistance-prone equids in good body condition without causing their glucose to rise, potentially leading to metabolic issues?
German researchers say a specialized museli mix might be your best bet.
In their recent study a low-starch, high-fat and -fiber muesli mix gave sports ponies enough energy to perform well and maintain body condition while reducing blood glucose levels after meals. That mix also kept ponies chewing meals longer, prolonging the feeding time and increasing saliva production, which contribute to good digestion.
“Based on this study and previous research on pony metabolism, I believe that feeding ponies muesli that’s high in fat and fiber might help prevent metabolic disorders while additionally providing them with a more ‘chewing-intensive’ feedstuff,” said Mandy Bochnia, DrMedVet, researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg’s Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences Animal Nutrition Group, in Halle/Saale.
“It’s possible that that feedstuff is also good for energy supply for ponies which are prone for insulin resistance and/or laminitis, but especially those have a higher basal insulin level in general. For that we need further studies on ponies with metabolic disorders to confirm that,” she said.
Bochnia and colleagues evaluated six healthy sport ponies that had not been diagnosed with metabolic disorders. They compared how the low-starch, high-fat and -fiber muesli compared to oats as a nutritional energy complement to hay. The muesli mix they tested was made up of apple chips, grass and alfalfa chaff, wheat straw chaffs, sunflower seeds, minerals, vegetable oil, carob fruit, carrots, desiccated coconut, beetroot chips, linseed, pea, and a vitamin/mineral feed additionally supplemented with L-lysine and L-threonine.
The ponies—which were in harness training for one hour per day during the experiment—performed just as well on the muesli/hay diet as they did on the oat/hay diet, she said. And they maintained equivalent body condition on both regimens.
However, their blood glucose levels were much lower an hour after eating (suggesting a healthier insulin response) when the ponies had the muesli compared to the oats, Bochnia said. And in fact, they dropped surprisingly low, she added—they fell even lower than their level before the meal, which is very unusual.
“The post-prandial (after-meal) glucose response showed no significant changes for the first 60 minutes, but then after that the glucose concentration declined and dropped down significantly compared to the basal glucose level and then even lower,” she said.
The ponies in her study took twice as long to consume the muesli meal compared to the oat meal. Slowed feed consumption combined with a higher chewing intensity (more chews per kilogram of dry matter) increases saliva production and improves digestion in equids, Bochnia said. It can also contribute to healthier insulin levels.
“A fast ingestion of starchy meals can induce a high glycemic and insulinemic response,” she said. “Because of the higher chewing intensity and especially the longer feed intake time (nearly twofold in comparison to an oat meal), the ponies produced more saliva, which can neutralize gastric acid and prevent them from ulcers. Meanwhile, the higher fat content provided enough energy but did not affect the insulin reaction. Therefore, the chosen high-fat, high-fiber muesli mix seems to be more able to prevent ponies in particular from metabolic disorders.”
Studying feed effects specifically in ponies compared to larger equids is important when it comes to managing their specific health challenges, Bochnia explained.
“Certain older genotype pony breeds (like the Shetland, Fell, and Dartmoor ponies, and Icelandic horses) are prone to insulin resistance and the development of laminitis,” she said. “Therefore, research on feed effects and feed intake parameters in ponies is useful for interpreting individual effects in ponies (and/or in comparison to horses) to improve the understanding of equine metabolic disorders.”
Bochnia and her colleagues recently began a related research project to explain the unexpected phenomenon of the very low blood glucose levels after the muesli meal, she said.
The study, “Effects of isoenergetic quantities of a low‐starch muesli feed high in fat and fibre vs. oat grains on the glycemic and insulinemic responses and feed intake patterns in sport ponies,” was published in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition.