Why Does Starch Make Horses Reactive?

Previous studies have shown horses are more reactive on starchy diets but not the reasons behind the nutrition-related behavior. A Scottish researcher discovered that the gut-brain axis might be the link.
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Why Does Starch Make Horses Reactive?
Behavioral test results found that the ponies were more reactive and startled on the high-starch diet | Photo: iStock

Owners often supplement their horses’ diets with high-starch cereal grains to meet their nutrient and caloric requirements. Study results have shown, however, that starch can make horses more reactive. The question that remains: Why?

Louise Bulmer, a PhD student studying under Peter Hastie, BSc, MSc, PhD, and Prof. Jo-Anne Murray, PhD, MSc, PgDip, PgCert, BSc (Hons), BHSII, RNutr, PFHEA, at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, took a closer look at the gut-brain axis to try to find an answer. She shared her findings at the 2019 Equine Science Society Symposium, held June 3-6 in Asheville, North Carolina.

The gut-brain axis is the bidirectional communication system between the gastrointestinal (GI) system and the central nervous system (CNS). Changes in gut microbes can affect CNS function and vice versa via known pathways

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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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