Want a Better-Behaved Horse? Consider Feeding a Low-Starch Diet

A Virginia Tech researcher investigated the impact of diet on lesson horses. Here’s what she found.
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Want a Better-Behaved Horse? Consider Feeding a Low-Starch Diet
Price found that feeding high-starch, low-fat grain mixes can negatively influence the behavior of performance horses under saddle. | Photo: iStock
The amount of starch in a horse’s diet can affect him both behaviorally and physiologically. To better understand its effects, Tanner Price, a graduate student at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, assessed university riding program horses’ behavioral and metabolic responses to diets with varying fat and starch levels. She shared her findings at the 2019 Equine Science Society Symposium, held June 3-6 in Asheville, North Carolina.

In her study, Price split 20 riding horses into five groups of four. Each group received a different starch-to-fat ratio in their diet, ranging from 7.1% to 14.3% starch. Throughout the 21-day period, all horses were fed twice daily, housed individually in stalls, and ridden in regular collegiate lessons (beginner to advanced equitation and hunter/jumper classes).

Price asked riders and instructors that were blind to the horses’ treatment groups to complete a behavior survey after each lesson. They evaluated each horses’ behavior when being caught, led, and groomed, as well as his energy levels while ridden, reaction to leg aids, relaxation, submission, and more. Price took blood samples on the first and last days of the trial after the horses had fasted for 12 hours

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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