Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Grain-Free Feeds for Horses

Horses with equine gastric ulcer syndrome and metabolic problems can benefit from grain-free, low-starch diets. Here’s what you need to know.

Grain-Free Feeds for Horses
Common ingredients used in grain-free diets to increase the feed’s calorie level include wheat middlings; fermentable fibers, such as sugar beet pulp and soy bean hulls; and fat sources such as rice bran and vegetable oil. | Photo: The Horse Staff

Q.I have an ulcer-prone mare that I’ve always fed a forage-first diet with a vitamin supplement mixed with hay pellets. When I’ve fed concentrates in the past, she’s developed gastric ulcers. Now I’ve started training her for endurance and feel she needs more calories for this higher-intensity work. I’m curious about grain-free feeds for horses. What does grain-free mean? Does it mean low-starch? If they aren’t providing calories from grains, where is the energy coming from?

—Via e-mail

A.The Association of American Feed Control Officials defines grain as seed from cereal plants. For example, oats, barley, corn, and wheat—in their intact forms—would be classified as grains as they are all seeds from the respective plants. Wheat middlings, however, would not be classified as a grain as it is not the whole seed. Rather, “middlings” is specifically a term used to describe “a by-product of flour milling comprising several grades of granular particles containing different proportions of endosperm, bran, (and) germ, each of which contains different levels of crude

Create a free account with to view this content. is home to thousands of free articles about horse health care. In order to access some of our exclusive free content, you must be signed into

Start your free account today!

Already have an account?
and continue reading.


Written by:

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. I have a coming 3 yo Hanoverian filly who has had chronic gastric ulcer disease (pyloric and squamous) since she was weaned. She is on a grain- free diet consisting of alfalfa pellets, chopped alfalfa forage, free choice hay, and a vitamin/mineral supplement. She has 24/7 turnout in a large pasture, a water trough, and a salt block available at all times. She will begin training sometime this year at a large facility where she was born. Her turnout will significantly decrease while there.
    My question is how will I need to adjust her feed and supplements to support the increase in exercise and stress levels to lower the risk of exacerbation of the ulcers and mild colic symptoms?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with

FREE weekly newsletters from

Sponsored Content

Weekly Poll

sponsored by:

This poll is no longer accepting votes

Which hoof problem do you encounter most often in your horses?
342 votes · 342 answers

Readers’ Most Popular

Sign In

Don’t have an account? Register for a FREE account here.

Need to update your account?

You need to be logged in to fill out this form

Create a free account with!