What is a carbohydrate and sugar and fructan in horses diets?

Feed Terminology – Fructans, Fibre, Sugar, NSC – What do they all mean???

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Have you heard the news about horses and sugar? What about starch? Then there are carbohydrates too aren’t there?
Have you seen all these fancy terms used NSC, Fructans, WSC?

What do they all mean? Confused yet??
Let’s break it down… (horse nutrition pun)

What are they? The are all Carbohydrates

This group of sugar-based compounds, also called saccharides, comprises important energy sources for the horse.

 Description of Carbohydrate Groups

Acid detergent fiber (ADF)

  • A measure of the least digestible carbohydrates in the feed,
    primarily cellulose and lignin.

Neutral detergent fiber (NDF)

  • Total plant cell wall carbohydrates, including ADF and hemicellulose;
  • Often considered an indicator of forage quality and intake potential (lower NDF=less hard-to-digest fiber=higher “quality,” higher intake).
  • A measure of fiber consisting of hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin.

Crude fiber (CF)

  • A crude measurement of fiber.

Nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC)

  • These are plant cell carbohydrates that are free in the cell and not part of the cell wall.
  • A measure of the easily digestible carbohydrates, including simple sugars and fructans.
  • Horses sensitive to glucose should be fed a low-NSC diet.

Water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC)

  • A measure of water-soluble sugars, including simple sugars and fructans.

Ethanol-soluble carbohydrates (ESC)

  • A measure of ethanol-soluble sugars, including mostly monosaccharides and disaccharides.
  • These carbohydrates are a subset of WSC that are primarily digested in the small intestine and give a true glycemic (blood sugar) response.
  • However, some fructans can be included in this fraction.
  • High ESC generally means a feed will generate a high glycemic response (unless there is a high level of fructans in this fraction).
  • Might be helpful for hard-working horses that need lots of energy, not so good for horses that are sensitive to large blood sugar changes (i.e., insulin-resistant horses).


  • Carbohydrate compound made up of many fructose molecules (complex sugar); fermented and digested primarily in the large intestine.
  • Present in primarily grass forages; one type is used at high doses in many laboratories to induce laminitis.


  • A polysaccharide composed of many linked glucose molecules found mainly in grains; mostly digested in the small intestine, where they are broken down and absorbed as glucose (simple sugar).
  • Low starch content generally means little glucose will be absorbed in the small intestine (low glycemic response).
  • This is good for horses that can’t handle large blood sugar changes (i.e., insulin-resistant horses).
  • High starch generally means a high glycemic response.

What is found in the different feed types

Cereal grains (e.g., corn, oats, or barley) are full of highly digestible carbohydrates such as simple sugars and starch.

Pasture, hay and chaff will have some simple sugars and starches, but they are higher in fiber and therefore provide less digestible energy per unit weight.

Although grains provide more energy, forage fibre feeds are incredibly important for horse gut health as the large intestine delicate microbe population requires a constant fibre source for fermentation. Therefore, a horse should consume fibre feeds in much higher quantities than grain to keep the gut happy and healthy.

Common Carbohydrates and Their Dietary Sources

Carbohydrate TypeDescriptionSource
Simple sugarIncludes glucose, fructose, xylose, and galactose and disaccharides such as lactoseFound in varying amounts in most plant-based feeds
FructanA short chain of fructose molecules.Cool-season grasses
StarchPolysaccharide; a long chain of glucose joined by alpha bonds.Found primarily in cereal grains, but also in varying amounts in forages.
CellulosePolysaccharide; a long chain of glucose joined by beta bonds. Indigestible by mammalian enzymes.Found in most plant-based feed sources, but in higher amounts in forages.

What do they do?

They are a major component of forages, a staple of the horse’s diet, and are required for digestive health. Which makes understanding them and utilizing them in your horse’s diet correctly crucial.

A horse will consume the carbohydrates found in both forages and grains, then the actions of enzymes found primarily in the small intestine break disaccharides and starch into monosaccharides that are then absorbed into the bloodstream, where they are converted for energy or energy storage (more on this later).

Dietary fibers, such as cellulose, hemicellulose, are not digested by enzymes, but instead undergo fermentation.

It’s important to evaluate your feed to determine the different carbohydrate types it contains.

Many types have the ability to cause gastric upset in the horse.

Disaccharides and Starch

A horse eats the carbohydrates found in forages and grains. Then in the small intestine actions of enzymes break disaccharides and starch into monosaccharides.

These are then absorbed into the bloodstream, where they are converted for energy or energy storage for use later.

Cellulose, Hemicellulose, Fructans

Dietary fibers, on the other hand, such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectins, are not digested by enzymes, but instead undergo a process called fermentation in the caecum and colon of the horse.

These areas of the gut house large populations of special microbes which have the ability to break down these complex fibrous carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids that are then absorbed and used as energy sources (calories).

However not all fibres are equal in their overall digestibility; for example, cellulose is typically only 40% digestible, hemicellulose 50% digestible, and lignin is not at all digestible.

In contrast, pectins and fructans are believed to be highly fermentable and have higher overall digestibility.

Limitations and problems

A horse is limited in his ability to digest starch, especially in large amounts.
When horses consume too much starch (such as with a high-grain diet, enzymes in the small intestine cannot properly digest it.

Undigested starch will, therefore, reach the large intestine and the microbes within it.
These microbes are usually accustomed to dealing with large amounts of starch, which could cause a disruption to the microbial ecosystem.

This can result in the overproduction of other acids such as lactic acid and/or gas, potentially resulting in colic.

Alternatively, it could result in the death of some microbes, causing them to release toxins that can be absorbed by the horse, which can result in laminitis.

Diets high in starch and sugar result in an increase in blood glucose levels, this is followed by an increase in insulin. A continual rise and fall and rise of insulin can result in insulin resistance with all the health issues that can be a result of this.
Further consequence of the high sugar diet can be unwanted excitability and behavior Definitely something owners want to avoid.

NSC, Fructans
If you own a horse with laminitis or a metabolic problem such as insulin resistance or Cushing’s disease, chances are you’ve heard recommendations to minimize his intake of nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC). NSC includes starch plus water soluble carbohydrates – simple sugars, plant sugars and fructans.

The ideal values of these fractions for sensitive horses have not been established, but, according to Lori Warren, PhD, PAS, associate professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Animal Sciences, “Concentrates between 12-13% NSC or lower could be categorized as low-starch and may be suitable for these horses, though they likely don’t need concentrates to begin with.”

Amy Gill, PhD, a private equine nutritionist based in Lexington, Ky., recommends that for sensitive horses, hay total starch and sugar should be below 10% and the total diet below 15%.

According to Gill, if a hay analysis is unavailable and the horse is symptomatic, owners can soak the hay (for 30-45 minutes) to help reduce any soluble sugars that might be present.

Many nutritionists and feed analysts are now saying that NSC isn’t the best measure to evaluate when evaluating a horse’s intake. This is primarily due to significant variation in the way different laboratories measure NSC components and calculate its value.

Also is the fact that NSC doesn’t give you a complete picture of the types of carbohydrates in a feed or forage that can affect your horse’s condition.
The group of carbohydrates combined under the NSC label includes nearly all the non-fiber carbohydrates–those that come from plant cell contents rather than tough, fibrous cell walls.

They are generally more easily digestible and yield more energy to the horse than the fiber carbohydrates, but they’re not all digested in the same part of the horse’s gastrointestinal tract or by the same process.
Therefore, they affect a horse’s blood sugar and gastrointestinal health differently, and this is why it’s important that they be evaluated separately.

What Group of Carbohydrates and Levels to Check

WSC, ESC, Starch
Instead of looking at NSC, nutritionists are recommending that we evaluate water-soluble carbohydrates, ethanol-soluble carbohydrates, and starch.
Each describes carbohydrates that affect the horse differently based on how they’re digested.

Water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC) 
Simple sugars and fructans
These include carbohydrates that are extracted from a sample by dissolving them in water.
Interpreting and using this value depend on the proportions of sugars and fructans in the sample;
• Simple sugars are digested and absorbed in the small intestine and have a significant impact on blood sugar (glycemic response),
• Fructans are fermented in the large intestine and induce a much smaller response.
• However, when eaten in large amounts, some fructans have been shown to cause laminitis due to disruption of the bacterial population in the large intestine.
• Fructans are rarely analyzed separately from other WSC.

Ethanol-soluble carbohydrates (ESC) 
These are a subset of WSC that is primarily digestible in the small intestine and includes much fewer fructans
• These carbohydrates are soluble in 80% ethanol; As such, this fraction is generally used to evaluate one set of carbohydrates in a feed that will induce a high glycemic response.

Made up of many glucose molecules
• The starches are mostly broken down to single glucose molecules. Thus, they also induce a high glycemic response.


When considering carbohydrates, consider not only the total energy you are providing horse, but also the sources of these calories.
The number of calories a horse requires depends largely on his body and activity level.

While a nutritionist can calculate the approximate number of calories your horse needs, a good gauge to determine if your horse is meeting his caloric requirements is to watch for any fluctuations in his body weight.
• For a given level of activity, is the horse gaining or losing weight?
• If your horses weight stays consistent, you are meeting his caloric requirements.

In cases of a horse with metabolic issues take care to be aware of the levels of the different groups of carbohydrates. If you own a horse with health problems such as Insulin Resistance or has laminitis, it is advisable to keep the diet ESC below 10%.   It is the best measure of the simple sugars that can trigger an insulin response when they are digested and absorbed.

Diet for a Insulin Resistant horse:
Starch and ESC are low, there will be little glucose available to be absorbed from the small intestine. This would mean a low glycemic response.

Diet for the Laminitis horse:
WSC and starch values are low, there should be only a small amount of material reaching the large intestine that will be rapidly fermented.

Dale Logan BSc, Post Grad Dip, Equine Nutrition

  • Qualified Equine Herbal Practitioner – Victoria Ferguson School of Equine Herbal Medicine (Australia)
  • Certificate in Herbal Medicine for Horses – National College of Traditional Medicine (Australia).

DL Equine


  • Amy Gill, PhD, a private equine nutritionist, Lexington, Ky
  • Paul Sirois, manager of Dairy One/Equi-analytical Forage Analysis Laboratories
  • Lori Warren, PhD, PAS, associate professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Animal Sciences
Equine herbal medicine

Equine Herbal Medicine

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Has your horse had an illness that you have had the vet out for multiple times? The vet has done their absolute best but things still are not right? You have tried the course of conventional drugs but nothing is working?
You don’t really know what’s wrong but your heart is breaking for horse you adore but can’t fix?
It’s time to try Equine Herbal Medicine.

As a science educated person (with a science degree and postgraduate, multiple post grad certificates and qualifications) I often as myself why exactly herbs work so effectively for horses?
I believe the answer lies in the fact that their gut is of course designed to eat plants! They are selective grazers when given opportunity will choose what they need, herbs and plants.

Herbal medicine remains the oldest and most used form of medicine on the planet today. The goal of herbal medicine is prevention as well as cure.

Preventative and Therapeutic Nutrition- Nutrients:

Nutrients contained in herbs and plants diet can affect a number of cellular metabolic mechanisms that are common in the pathogenesis of chronic diseases for example: inflammation, cell-proliferative responses, and cell-signalling pathways, each potentially important in the pathogenesis of cancer, atherosclerosis, and diabetes, can all be affected by different dietary fatty acids.
Preventative nutrition can halt or slow the progress of disease (if possible) in its earliest stages; in the case of injury, goals include limiting long-term disability.
Therapeutic Nutrition is defined as the use of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, co-factors, enzymes, anti-oxidants, and phytonutrients, to support the body’s immune and healing systems, thereby altering the course and outcome of a disease process.
It focuses on metabolic and physiological effects of foods on the body’s healing and immune systems.

Unlike drugs, nutritional products are not designed to address symptoms or diseases, they are designed to “feed” and “fuel” the cells of the body, using or calling upon the cells’ inherent ability to heal and achieve wellness.
The goals of therapeutic nutrition fall within 3 broad categories, which directly help to enhance wellness.
• The supply of appropriate, bioavailable nutrients
• The reduction of inflammation
• The enhancement of elimination of toxins
Therapeutic diets using plants and natural ingredients are formulated to treat disease or metabolic disorders in horses.


Herbs contain a complex range of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and chemicals (phytochemicals) that have a unique biological activity.
Many of our modern pharmaceutical drugs come from isolating the unique compounds found in herbs. A great example is the common human painkiller aspirin: this has been developed specifically from the chemical found in the willow tree which is salicylic acid.

The difference when using a herb is that you get no potentially nasty side effects of single drugs and all the benefits of combining all the effective compounds held in the whole plant.

AS an example in the long-term use of NSAID for pain relief such as Phenylbutazone (Bute) there can be side effects of the drug which can be very harmful to the horse. The most important ones affect the gastrointestinal tract and occasionally the urinary tract. This drug acetylsalicylic acid containing the salicylates in isolation can cause the gastric bleeding.
However, the long-term use of Meadowsweet for equine pain relief has so far proven extremely safe. Meadowsweet contains salicylic acid which has the anti-inflammatory effects but when given as a whole plant extract these are balanced out with the other ingredients contained in the plant. The result is the complete opposite effect of actually healing gastric bleeding and ulceration!
Please note that the short-term use of bute is most definitely required in many cases.

Many of these compounds are Phytochemicals which are non-nutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties.

They are non-essential nutrients, meaning that they are not required by the human body for sustaining life. It is well-known that plants produce these chemicals to protect themselves but recent research demonstrates that they can also protect against diseases.

There are more than thousand known phytochemicals. Some of the well-known phytochemicals are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy and flavanoids in fruits. Rosehips have a well-deserved reputation for providing a natural source of Vit C.
Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity and protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Phytochemicals with antioxidant activity: allyl sulphides (onions, leeks, garlic), carotenoids (fruits, carrots), flavonoids (fruits, vegetables), polyphenols (tea, grapes).

The Horse Diet Today:

As our horses today still have the same instincts and genetic structure as their wild ancestors we can and should utilize the natural properties of plants and herbs in their diets in order to provide excellent basic nutrition.
As we know that the modern horse proliferated in the wild for thousands of years by self-medicating on a wide variety of herbs, these same herbs and natural diet can be used in a preventative manner to maintain health and increase immunity.
This increase in immunity through a natural diet of access to good pasture, herbs, organic feeds such as grains and roughage will result in better digestive physiology. That is better absorption of available nutrients. As excess feeding of sugars, proteins and grains and synthetically manufactured minerals and vitamins will unbalance metabolism in the horse.

This vital nutrition diet can prevent disease and also alleviate or cease current health problems, resulting in a decrease in veterinary bills, increase in health and vitality, increased performance, our horses can live longer and have extended riding careers.
As a result of a decrease in unneeded over supplementation (a worldwide fad) and feeding there is the ability to easily customize each horses diet depending on its needs at any particular time, as every horse, like all animals, are individual and different.

Overall, this leads to a decrease in feed bills and costs whether a person owns one horse or many.
By using quality fresh, non-synthetic feeds horse owners can be certain of exactly what their horse is eating and this natural diet puts us in the powerful holistic position of preventing disease from occurring rather than being the ‘backup ambulance waiting at the bottom of the cliff’ after disease has occurred.

ALWAYS obtain your horses herbs from a equine qualified herbal practitioner! Many herbs are the basis of modern drugs as mentioned earlier, therefore they contain drug-like components, many of them have the ability to become toxic if fed in the incorrect amount for the wrong reason.
As a qualified practitioner, I can prescribe high potency practitioner only herbal extracts. These are liquid extract forms of the herbs of human medicinal quality, with guaranteed provenance, that are quickly absorbed into the blood stream without having to go through the digestive system.
I prescribe the most effective specific herbs, which work together, to treat each individual disease, illness and injury.

Dosage methods are non-invasive, as they’re offered orally and quickly accepted by horses. As well as being a more powerful form of herbal treatment, liquid herbal extracts have a longer shelf life (around four years) than dried herbs (around two years).
Herbal treatments typically last for one to three months. For some conditions that need to be managed rather than healed, like osteoarthritis, treatment is ongoing. Herbal extract dosages are usually a very small amount of 5-10 ml per dose, and most horses get used to their herbal treatment quickly.

Feed Herbs they WORK!

Dale Logan BSc, Post Grad Dip, Equine Nutrition
• Qualified Equine Herbal Practitioner – Victoria Ferguson School of     Equine Herbal Medicine (Australia)
• Certificate in Herbal Medicine for Horses – National College of Traditional Medicine (Australia).



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What are they?

  • Sugars
  • Starches
  • Fibres

This is a group of sugar-based compounds, also called saccharides, and comprises important energy sources for the horse.

The simplest carbohydrates are monosaccharides (made up of one unit and also called simple sugars), such as glucose, fructose.

Another type of carbohydrate is a disaccharide (two sugars bonded together), which includes lactose (found commonly in milk, made from a unit of glucose and galactose) and sucrose (table sugar, made from glucose and fructose).

There are also oligosaccharides (three to 200 units each) and polysaccharides, or “complex carbohydrates” (each made up of multiple units, typically 200-2,000, which include compounds such as starch and cellulose). Cellulose is considered a type of dietary fiber, along with hemicellulose, lignin, pectins, and fructans.

How do carbohydrates work in horses?

First a horse consumes the carbohydrates found in forages and grains, then the enzymes found primarily in the small intestine break down disaccharides and starch into monosaccharides.

These are then absorbed into the bloodstream, where they are converted for energy or energy storage.

However dietary fibers, such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectins, are NOT digested by enzymes, but instead undergo fermentation.  These are broken down in the cecum and large colon by the large population of microbes which turn these fibrous carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids. These are used as an energy source by the horse.

What are the issues with feeding carbohydrates in a horse?

Gut problems:

Horse are limited in their ability to digest starch in large amounts. If a horse consumes too much (such as a grain overload), the enzymes in the small intestine cannot cope and undigested starch makes its way thru into the large intestine. The microbes in here are highly sensitive and not used to dealing with starch and this amount makes for an unhappy environment. In turn this causes an overproduction of acids like lactic acid which can result in the horse getting colic.


It can also result in some of the special microbes dying and releasing toxins into the bloodstream causing lamintis.

Insulin Resistance, Equine Metabolic Issues:

High starch and sugar diets result in an increase in blood glucose concentrations, followed by an increase in insulin concentrations.

Put simply, when your horse eats something with starch the enzymes breakdown the large starch molecules into small glucose pieces. This glucose then leaves the small intestine and enters the bloodstream where it can be used for energy by the body’s cells.

BUT in order to get into cells it needs help to get thru the cell doors. This is where Insulin helps by grabbing the glucose and sending it into cells.

In the horse in Insulin Resistance basically, the cell has no doors to allow the insulin to get the glucose inside and the glucose molecules remain in the blood stream.

Even worse a cascade of effects occurs where the pancreas thinks it needs to send out more insulin to help the glucose get into the cells and so the blood levels of insulin continue to rise along with the glucose!

Eventually the glucose can enter the cells and the blood glucose returns to normal levels but it is slow. And if this situation described above occurs often enough over a long period of time the pancreas cells have to work too hard and may fail, then the blood glucose levels may never return to normal.

Another hormone involved at this stage called ‘Leptin’ which is released by the fat cells and normally will shut off appetite as it permits the uptake of nutrients into the cells. When things go wrong and cells become resistant to leptin, the horse continues to be hungry, continues to eat and leptin continues to be produced at higher levels. This triggers a stress response in the body and suppresses the thyroid. This slows the metabolic rate of the horse.

Both these responses can lead to fat storage or deposits, and the more fat a horse, the more signals are sent to reduce the cell receptors for insulin. Then the more fat produced the higher the insulin levels as the cells become resistant to the insulin. Also, an underweight horse with a high metabolic rate can be insulin resistant and will eventually develop the fat deposits commonly seen along the neck and tailhead.

All this can also lead to Laminitis = weakened laminae attachment in the hoof.

What should I feed my horse if there is a problem?

Different feed types contain different types of carbohydrates; these have implications for the horse’s nutrition and health, in part because of their ability to cause gastric upset.

If your horse has metabolic health issues such as PPID or IR, it is especially important to analyze your feed to determine the carbohydrate fractions within it. The following are key carbohydrate fraction terms you might encounter on a feed tag or pasture/hay analysis:

Nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) A measure of the easily digestible carbohydrates, including simple sugars and fructans. Horses sensitive to glucose should be fed a low-NSC diet.

Water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC) A measure of water-soluble sugars, including simple sugars and fructans.

Ethanol-soluble carbohydrates (ESC) A measure of ethanol-soluble sugars, including mostly monosaccharides and disaccharides.

Amy Gill, PhD, a private equine nutritionist based in Lexington, Ky., recommends that for sensitive horses, hay total starch and sugar should be below 10% and the total diet below 15%. According to Gill, if a hay analysis is unavailable and the horse is symptomatic, owners can soak the hay (for 30-45 minutes) to help reduce any soluble sugars that might be present.

Do not just think about the NSC component as it is not the best measure when evaluating a horse’s carbohydrate intake. NSC doesn’t give you a complete picture of the types of carbohydrates in a feed or forage that can affect your horse’s condition.

The group of carbohydrates all noted under the NSC tag includes nearly all the non-fiber carbohydrates–those that come from plant cell contents rather than tough, fibrous cell walls. They are generally more easily digestible and yield more energy to the horse than the fiber carbohydrates, but they’re not all digested in the same part of the horse’s gastrointestinal tract or by the same process. Thus, they affect a horse’s blood sugar and gastrointestinal health differently, and this is why it’s important that they be evaluated separately.

Paul Sirois, manager of Dairy One/Equi-analytical Forage Analysis Laboratories in Ithaca, N.Y. explains: “Let’s say one hay sample has 5% simple sugars+starch and 10% fructan, with an NSC value of 15%.

And you have another with 10% simple sugars+starch and 5% fructan that is also 15% NSC.

They’re not the same hay even though they have the same NSC value.

The one that’s 10% simple sugars+starch might be more of a problem for the insulin-resistant horse (because simple sugars and starch, which are primarily digested in the small intestine, cause a greater glycemic or blood sugar response than fructans).

The hay that’s 10% fructan could be more of a problem for a laminitic horse.” (Fructans are primarily digested in the large intestine; large doses can upset the microbial population there, resulting in colic and/or laminitis. Some fructans are in fact used at high doses to induce laminitis in some research situations.)

Instead of looking at NSC, nutritionists are recommending that we evaluate water-soluble carbohydrates – WSC, ethanol-soluble carbohydrates – ESC and starch.

WSC—Simple sugars and fructans, which is simply termed “sugar” on some analyses. Interpreting and using this value depends on the proportions of sugars and fructans in the sample; simple sugars are digested and absorbed in the small intestine and have a significant impact on blood sugar (glycemic response), while fructans are fermented in the large intestine and induce a much smaller response. However, when eaten in large amounts, some fructans have been shown to cause laminitis due to disruption of the bacterial population in the large intestine. Fructans are rarely analyzed separately from other WSC.

ESC–are a subset of WSC that is primarily digestible in the small intestine and includes much fewer fructans. As such, this fraction is generally used to evaluate one set of carbohydrates in a feed that will induce a high glycemic response. Depending upon the lab doing the analysis, WSC and ESC may both be reported as “sugar.” This has caused a lot of the confusion in the industry, notes Sirois. “At Dairy One/Equi-analytical, we no longer report ‘sugar,’ ” he adds. “Carbs are correctly identified as either WSC or ESC.”

 What is the desired feed value?

If the values for starch and ESC are low, there will be little glucose available to be absorbed from the small intestine.” This would mean a low glycemic response, which is good for insulin-resistant horses or others that can’t handle large swings in blood sugar levels.

If the WSC and starch values are low, there should be only a small amount of material reaching the large intestine that will be rapidly fermented. Therefore, low starch + low WSC means less opportunity for large intestinal disturbances. This feed would be good for a laminitic horse, particularly one whose disease was initiated by diet-related colic.

The best values are ESC + Starch below 10%.

Dale Logan

©DL Equine

Magnesium Supplementation in the Horse

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Its green new pasture right now and your horse has way too much energy and is spooking more than normal making your usual laidback ride feel like you’ve just been entered into the local rodeo!

Sandra (and her friends) on the local horseriding fb group keep telling you to feed more magnesium that it will cure all and turn your horse back into that unicorn you are used to!

Want to know if this is actually true? Is there actual science behind feeding more magnesium?

Let’s break it down:

What is the function of Magnesium?

Magnesium is a major mineral involved in over 300 enzyme activities in the body.  Yes, your horse requires the mineral Magnesium. In most cases your horse will need to be fed this mineral in its diet.

Up to 60% of the body’s Magnesium is found in the skeleton, with only 30% of that available for mobilization during times when it is needed elsewhere in the body.  Magnesium works in concert with Calcium in activities such as nerve transmission and muscle contraction.

Within muscles Calcium and Magnesium work antagonistically: Calcium causing muscle contraction and magnesium – relaxation. Magnesium also directly competes with calcium for some of its binding sites, allowing greater binding of calcium to enzymes in hypomagnesaemia. It is also an important coenzyme for the sodium-potassium ATPase pump.

Magnesium is primarily absorbed from the small intestine and filtered by the kidney. Only 5% of the magnesium filtered by the kidney is excreted, and the remainder is reabsorbed.

What happens when your horse is Magnesium deficient?

Lack of magnesium in the diet and resulting magnesium deficiency can have varying symptoms which include nervousness, muscle tremors, hypersensitivity of the skin, increased body temperature during exercise, and ataxia.

Magnesium is essential for the functioning of a magnesium dependent enzyme called acetylcholine esterase. Acetylcholine esterase is needed for the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. During periods of magnesium deficiency, acetylcholine esterase does not function as it should and acetylcholine accumulates at the motor end plates causing neuromuscular excitability. This accumulation of acetylcholine is likely to contribute to the tense muscles, incoordination, muscle twitches and spookiness seen in magnesium deficient animals. (Exert from Dr. Nerida Richards FeedXL)

How does your horse become deficient?

It is actually rare in our horses that are grazed at pasture to be Magnesium deficient as most grasses in NZ will have adequate Magnesium content.

What is much more common in reality is competitive mineral interactions, which result in magnesium intakes or availability below optimal levels. A particular scenario in our horses is the high potassium in our pastures which competes with magnesium for uptake within the gut.

High dietary potassium is also reported to reduce magnesium absorption in humans. While it is only through extrapolating from data in other animal species, it is likely that excessive potassium in the equine diet also reduces the absorption of magnesium in horses. What’s the harm in high Potassium? Potassium is concentrated in the fluids inside the cell wall, each time the body has to use a nerve or a muscle, potassium is ejected from the cell and the change in ionic balance sparks an electrical impulse causing the cell to react, by contraction in a muscle cell.

Once the reaction has occurred, the original cellular balance between sodium and potassium is restored and the nerve or muscle will relax (potassium’s relaxing effect inside the cell is similar to magnesium’s outside the cell).” Excerpt from, “Minerals: The Metabolic Miracle Workers” by Dr. Robert Erdman and Meiron Jones. A diet that is too high in potassium means that the extra cellular fluid is permanently high in potassium. This upsets the delicate sodium: potassium ratio and hence, the nerves and muscles cannot relax.

Put this together with the fact that Potassium competes with Magnesium, this reduced absorption, coupled with a low magnesium concentration in the diet could result in an induced magnesium deficiency.

How can you determine if it is Magnesium deficiency making your horse nervous?

As stated above, Magnesium is stored in the bone and muscle, and only 1% of total body magnesium is found in the extracellular fluid, so blood Magnesium levels are a poor indicator of body Magnesium levels. Diagnosing deficiency is best done with muscle biopsy or dietary analysis, though deficiency would be unlikely in any horse with day-to-day access to good-quality forage.

Therefore, a pasture test analysing the mineral content of your pasture is an extremely useful way to accurately see what is available to your horse and what other minerals may be interfering. However, another issue with lush spring or autumn pastures is that they can also have large amounts of nitrate accumulated in their leaves, especially when plants are very young and in the one or two leaf stage. In order to remove nitrate from the body, ruminants and horses bond the nitrate to a cation (a positively charged ion which includes calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium) to form an ionic complex which is then excreted. Professor T.W. Swerczek, a researcher with the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky, USA has reported that when a sodium deficiency exists (which is common in grass-based pastures) nitrate is more likely to bond with calcium or magnesium, so under high nitrate conditions, a magnesium deficiency can occur.

Makes your life feeding horses difficult right?!

Unfortunately, there is very little research proving that supplementing extra Magnesium does for a fact calm nervous behaviour in horses. One actual positive study to compare magnesium supplementation to a known sedative agent, was a research project conducted by equine scientists from Charles Sturt University in Australia and the Waltham Equine Studies Group in the U.K., where six Standardbred geldings were supplemented with 10 grams of magnesium aspartate. The horses were already being fed hay made from clover and ryegrass, a diet that contained the recommended daily intake of magnesium. The average reaction speed response was measured before and after supplementation. The response after supplementation was reduced by more than one-third in these horses. This suggests that magnesium aspartate may positively influence behavior in some horses.

There is of course much anecdotal evidence that suggests supplementation can improve anxious behaviour of horses. It’s important to note the study mentioned tested the usefulness of a magnesium supplement only in the short term; the amount of cortisol in the horses’ blood, which indicate the horses long-term stress level, did not change significantly with the supplement or the acepromazine.

How much Magnesium does your horse need?

According to NRC, an intake of 20mg of Magnesium per kilogram of bodyweight per day is necessary to maintain normal blood serum levels. Thus, for a 500kg horse in light to moderate exercise, an intake of 10g per day is necessary to maintain blood levels at the minimum value reported.

Consulting with well-respected nutritionist from the University of Guelph, Canada, Dr Don Kapper, his response was that – ‘The feeding trials where extra Magnesium was given to ‘calm’ the horse, worked for very short period of time because the horse will begin ‘dumping’ the extra Magnesium in their urine, similar to what they do with excess Calcium.  Therefore, you can safely add up to 20 mg/kg of Body Weight/day, starting 30 days before these symptoms are known to begin, and continue for 30 days after the grass has slowed in its growth rate.’

These studies have shown that horses normally excrete dietary magnesium in their urine, and it took 13 days of feeding a magnesium-deficient diet before horses began to conserve magnesium or excrete less in their urine!

Although excessive magnesium will be excreted in the urine, overdoses have been linked to decreased calcium and phosphorus uptake, compromised intestinal integrity, heart conduction problems and renal trouble, so it’s important not to over supplement. No more than 30g of magnesium should be in the total diet as a safe upper limit.

Feeding multiple supplements of magnesium at once will imbalance the ratios of minerals and interactions in the body, can cause more harm than good and is costly. Magnesium should be fed in correct ratio with Calcium to the horse. That is less than 2 parts calcium to one-part magnesium.

Often horse owners will definitely see a positive change in their horse’s behaviour once they have feed a supplement. Often this can be due to multiple change in feeding practices, primarily due to removing the horse from problem pasture and at the same time the inclusion of a supplement which adds not only Magnesium but also other necessary minerals and vitamins such as Calcium, Sodium, Selenium and Vit B1 and B6.


Consult an Equine Nutritionist

Balance your horses’ diet! See a nutritionist to obtain the optimum balanced diet for your horse. Balancing your horses’ diet is key. They will be able to recommend a complete vitamin/ mineral supplement with the correct Magnesium content for your horse. A nutritionist will provide a diet that is based on the correct forage, such as soaked mature grass hay low in potassium to help, along with alternatives to grain-based feed which can exacerbate nervous behaviour.

Start supplementation early

Before grass flush and continue for a month after. Do not feed all year, this will imbalance the precise mineral ratios and wastes $. Also recognise high risk periods for your horse such as Spring and Autumn. At this time either remove your horse from the pasture or begin magnesium, sodium and vitamin B1 supplementation early!

Practice calming training methods

You are dealing with a large flight animal. Supplementation is not the magic cure-all. Running away from scary things and shying are how horses cope with the world. Introduce a good method for relaxation into your training.

Dale Logan

DL Equine


The National Academies 2007 Nutrient Requirements of Horses.


Equine applied and clinical nutrition: health, welfare and performance, Geor, Raymond J., editor of compilation.; Harris, Patricia A., 1959- editor of compilation.; Coenen, Manfred, editor of compilation.

Equine nutrition and feeding, Frape, David,

The ‘Forage Substitutes for Horses’ Fact Sheet 09/05, from The University of Guelph, Dr. Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, PhD, dACVN – Associate Professor/ Department of Animal Science/Rutgers University College/New Brunswick/New Jersey; Dr. Bob Wright – Lead Veterinarian/Disease Prevention/Equine and Alternate Species/OMAFRA. – tells us that – Long-stem hay and pasture grasses contain over 20% crude fibre.

Mycotoxin Binders

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Let’s talk about Toxin Binders:

Nearly every day on some form of media you can read about horses being grass affected the need for horse owners to calm their horse’s behaviour by feeding a Mycotoxin binder. However, there is a lot of misleading information out there.

Do you really know what a toxin binder horse product does? Do you understand what is in these products? Do you know what your pasture species are that your horse is grazing on?

Let me start by explaining that yes, many horses get benefit from the feeding of a toxin binder! However equally many people are feeding this type of product without knowledge of why it can work or again why it may not be working at all!

In NZ especially, we all hear the terms such as ‘grass affected’, ‘grass staggers’, mycotoxins and binders. Many of these terms get mixed up or used in the wrong situation completely.

Let’s break it down:

What is a ‘grass affected’ horse?

This could mean a horse has ingested a mycotoxin from the grass it has eaten or alternatively it could mean that horse has gone a bit silly in its behaviour due to too much spring grass, too much sugar, too much energy and not enough work. Be careful in how you diagnose your own horse and its health.

Don’t feed what you don’t need to be that an additive or the amount of grass you give!

What is ‘Grass staggers’?

This is a health issue in horses that have ingested a toxin causing a neurological reaction called staggers. This is behaviour such as shying, and literally staggering around not walking properly. (This is often confused with health problem ‘grass tetany’ or magnesium deficiency staggers).

There may be weight loss or reduced growth rates, diarrhoea, excitable, unpredictable, irritable or uncharacteristic behaviour such as over-reaction to common stimulus they would normally be OK with, muscle twitching or twitching of the face, lips and eyelids and loss of coordination, especially in the hind end, and staggering etc.

What are Mycotoxins?

These are chemical compounds produced by actively growing molds (fungi). The most well-known toxin that affects New Zealand pasture fed horses is lolitrem B.

It is found in rye grass that has been endophyte protected (to prevent a weevil from destroying the grass).  It is mainly found in dairy pasture and horses are vulnerable when they are grazed on these paddocks when the grass is short.

The fungi is found at the base. This is often seen in the Autumn.

What is a Mycotoxin Binder?

Mycotoxin binders or adsorbents are substances that bind to mycotoxins and prevent them from being absorbed through the gut and into the blood circulation.

Toxin binders come in two basic formats,

  • either an adsorbing agent
  • or a bio-transforming agent.

Adsorbing types of binders are basically two types: a series of aluminosilicates, bentonite, montmorillonites and zeolite, all basically mineral clay structures and then there are the yeast type – mannon protein/carbohydrate (glucan) of binder. 

The adsorbing types cover a larger spectrum than the biotransformers and therefore they are the ones most commonly available. The main mycotoxins are aflatoxins and fusariums. (also found in mouldy hay or grain).

What is important to know is that neither totally capture all toxins. Research has shown that Aflatoxin for example is a polar mycotoxin and is very easily ‘picked up’ by a yeast derived glucomannan based binder.

However pasture based mycotoxins such as lolitrem B are not picked up by yeast based binders at all.

There may be other issues at work as well…One problem is that not all clays bind all toxins equally. They can vary widely in how well, or poorly, they bind specific fungal toxins depending on even small variations in their content of the component minerals such as the aluminosilicates. 

Another problem is that some of the bentonite products bind aflatoxins very well under acidic conditions, such as occur in the center of a mass of moulding grain, but when the get into the animal and hit the higher pH either of the rumen or the distal intestine and large bowel of a horse, they actually then release the toxin so what they have ended up being is a very efficient delivery system.

So what do you do? 

Be sure of the difference between overactive behaviour from too much high sugar grass and actual mycotoxin ingestion.

Get to know your pasture well, do you actually have ryegrass? 

If the answer is yes, I have a lot of ryegrass then the best answer is to remove the horse from this type of pasture and also feed the right type of toxin binder prior to and during the high-risk time to reduce the response.

Dale Logan

DL Equine

New Spring and Autumn grass issues

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Spring (or Autumn) has begun! I know because a week of sun and a little (or lot) of rain has meant our grass is very green! This new growth pasture can present some unique problems for horses.

As the amount of pasture changes, so does your horse’s need for supplementary feed. Failure to adjust your horse’s feed correctly with changing seasons could result in an overweight, hyperactive horse or an underweight, tired horse.

Spring and Autumn are well known as ‘danger times’ for laminitis, colic and unwanted behaviour. So, what is it about pastures growing during these seasons that make them unique and how can they be managed?


Lush spring pastures can contain as little as 15% dry matter meaning they are up to 85% water. Because of the extremely high-water content of these pastures’ horses need to graze for long periods and eat large amount of pasture to ingest their required amount of 90% dry matter feed. A horse should be consuming around 1.5% of its body weight in dry matter per day.

There is also very little fibre present in pastures during these early growth stages. Fibre that remains undigested to some extent as it passes the whole way through the digestive tract is important for the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and the formation of manure.

Horses that are not given an additional source of fibre when on lush new grass may experience diarrhoea and are at a higher risk of colic associated with a low gut fill.


On the other side of the coin the pasture alone can often go close to meeting a performance horse’s requirement for energy. When these high-quality pastures are available, there can be little to no need to feed additional hard feed.

It can be a difficult thing to manage for some of us with little control over paddocks and grazing.

What can you do:

The best thing to do is strip graze slowly into fresh paddocks if you can.

Pile in the fiber NOW. Low energy chaff and plenty of hay and other sources such as beet pulp etc. The extra fibre in these feeds will improve gut fill and manure consistency reducing the risk of colic and diarrhoea and also help your horse to consume the calories he needs when pasture water content is very high.

Reduce the sweet feed or concentrate feed.

When adjusting feed amounts up and down to match pasture conditions, be aware of the diet’s mineral balance because controlling energy intake by reducing the amount of complete feed you are giving may be inadvertently causing mineral deficiencies that will affect your horse’s health. 

Remember to feed a vitamin mineral supplement.
If you choose to add extra Magnesium remember that research findings conclude that this extra amount will only work for very short period of time because the horse will begin ‘dumping’ the extra Magnesium in their urine, similar to what they do with excess Calcium.  Therefore, you can safely add up to 20 mg/kg of Body Weight/day, starting 30 days before these symptoms are known to begin, and continue for 30 days after the grass has slowed in its growth rate.  It is unwise to add multiple products of extra minerals to your horse as this unbalances very fine ratios required in the horses system.

Add a well researched probiotic with a high number of live microbes to give your horses good gut bacteria a boost.

For some horses a cup of dried chamomile flowers added into your daily feed can soothe both the gut and the spring behavior.

Take-Home Message

For optimum horse gut health, our feeding and management practices should mimic nature as much as possible because unnatural conditions can adversely impact horses’ GI tract health and function.

This means paying attention to what we feed (nutrient and fibre levels) and how we feed, in terms of meal size, frequency, temperature, season, grass growth.

The key to knowing when to adjust the amount of feed you are feeding according to pasture conditions is regularly body condition score your horse to detect changes in body fat condition and taking careful note of your horse’s behaviour.

Feed by weight, not by volume. A scoop or handful can hold a greater weight of pellets than of sweet feed, so the horse getting “three scoops” of feed may be getting more or less than the optimum amount.

DL Equine

Developing Topline

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Having a well-developed topline musculature in a horse is a beautiful sight and often sought after by many horse riders.

There are varying discussions and opinions in the horse riding circles about how to develop this in your horse. The following are a few tips to consider: Remember it takes TIME!

Issues to consider first:

Consider why your horse may have an underdeveloped top line, is it malnutrition? Poor posture? Health issues? History? All of these?

Many horses have poor posture,   Nicole Rombach, APM, MEEBW, CCBW, PG AM, MSc, PhD, president of Equinenergy/Caninenergy Ltd and chair of the International Equine Body Worker Association for the U.K. and Europe, tells us that ‘Like humans, horses need good posture when standing and moving to stave off back and neck pain, with their abdominal tunic (which covers the oblique muscles and supports the abdomen) working to help support the back. “If the core stability isn’t there, the back and neck take over to manage that stability, and that’s where things can become painful,” she says.

“Topline issues can develop when some horses are ridden too young, when they’re too weak to carry the rider, because of bad saddle fit, or back or neck problems,” she says. Lameness is another common culprit. “Lameness and neck/back problems are fairly synonymous,” Rombach says. “They’re not mutually exclusive.”

After a long period of rest, whether due to injury or simply not ridden for a spell muscle mass can waste. Also, it is important to consider the horses health status, for example it has been found that horses with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (equine Cushing’s disease) have difficulty metabolizing and using muscle-building proteins as they should.  

Pain or ill-fitting saddles and bridles should always be addressed first.

After that issues of horse posture can be remedied by correct core building exercises, training using methods such as your physio can advise on, combined with the latest techniques of ‘ Core Conditioning for Horses: Yoga-Inspired Warm-Up Techniques: Increase Suppleness, Improve Bend, and Unlock Optimal Movement for horses’ by Visconte Simon Cocozza, Trainer and Examiner for the La Fédération Française d’Equitation (FFE). Visconte writes that ‘The horse’s ability to use the powerful mechanisms already built into his body relies not upon the strength we can see on the outside but the strength on the inside. This invisible and complex arrangement of internal “core” muscles control the horse’s posture, suppleness, and agility.’


The next step in your programme should always be the diet. Get a diet individually formulated for you horse using an equine nutritionist.

In building muscle, it’s not a case of simply increasing the protein in a diet: Its all about the correct building blocks of protein.

What this actually involves is feeding the best sources of protein that contain essential amino acids that a horse cannot supply themselves. –

As horses do not actually have a requirement for crude protein as such what they require are the amino acids that make up protein. Some amino acids are essential and must be provided in the diet as the horse’s body can’t produce them.

(Proteins are digested and broken down into the individual amino acids through the actions of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and various enzymes in the stomach and small intestine. The individual amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream and can then be used to build different proteins for the body (e.g. structural elements such as collagen, or hormones such as insulin, or the amino acids can be broken down further and metabolized to provide energy.)

There are 10 amino acids that are considered essential for the horse: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

A “limiting” amino acid is an essential amino acid that is often found in less than adequate amounts in feeds. All protein synthesis by the body will be limited, therefore, to the amount of that amino acid provided. Lysine is considered the first limiting amino acid, because it is required in relatively large amounts, and is not found in adequate levels in many foods.

Poor topline development; might indicate a requirement for a source of better-quality protein in the feed. In this situation a high-protein ration balancer might be a good option. An equine nutritionist can help you determine the best solution for your horse. When formulating a diet for horses to meet their protein needs, it means formulating a diet to meet their essential amino acid requirements, and to provide a source for non-essential amino acid synthesis.

Dietary Sources of Protein

When formulating a diet for horses, we need to consider both protein quantity and protein quality. In terms of protein quantity, the horse needs a certain number of grams of protein per day and, of this, a certain amount (grams) of lysine needs to be provided.

Not all protein feeds are equal! i.e. The greater the proportion of essential amino acids there are in a protein, the better the protein quality. Equine feedstuffs vary greatly in their protein content and in their amino acid profiles.

Legumes, such as Lucerne (alfalfa hay) have higher amounts of protein than grass hays. Soybean meal and other seed meals (linseed meal, cottonseed meal for example) lupins and peas are excellent sources of lysine and some other essential amino acids. Other excellent sources of protein include animal derived proteins such as casein (dried milk protein).

Your horse needs a balanced amino acid profile in the diet, which means finding high-quality, balanced protein sources, avoid trying to improve quality on your own, however. Supplementing is an art requiring a delicate balancing act, not just piling on more of a single nutrient.

As a nutritionist I can help you find the right commercial feed for your particular horse, I take into account the horse’s work level, age, breed, personality, pasture, size, body condition, health issues, and more to create the right diet targeted for your horse’s individual needs.

The correct diet works together with the correct exercise and posture for building topline and maintaining it!

Chaff Types

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How do you know what type of Chaff to feed your horse?

Here is a breakdown of the basic different types available and their attributes:

Lucerne Chaff

Also known as Alfalfa. High in protein and energy than grass or cereal hays and chaffs. Lucerne contains a lower level of starches and sugars than many grass hays.

Lucerne also contains high concentrations of minerals calcium and magnesium, and when fresh, the vitamins A and E. Lucerne is typically low in phosphorous and depending on where it was grown, contains varying concentrations of other minerals.

Can be a great feedstuff for working and training horses, eventing and performance. Older horses needing extra energy and injured or recovering horses, also growing horses = generally those requiring more energy and protein. Lucerne can also be fed to laminitic horses who need high quality protein to repair damaged laminae in the hoof.

Not advisable for those ponies whose daily protein requirements are already met with pasture and/or other feed.

Use = Fiber, Protein, Energy 

Meadow Chaff

Generally, contains a combination of all grass types harvested. Therefore, can have an unknown level of minerals and protein. However, the later the grass (mature grass) was harvested the lower the protein and energy levels can be expected. Typically, less energy and protein than Lucerne.

The amount of leaf to stalk (stem) will dictate the quality and its energy content.

Use = Fibre, Energy

Oaten Chaff

Oaten chaff is the chaffed stubble or hay portion of an oat crop. Should not contain any actual oat grain.

Oaten chaff often contains high sugar + starch, poor mineral levels. Early-cut oaten (and wheaten chaff or hay) can contain a lot of sugar, which makes them very palatable and increases the energy content. However, has good fibre and low protein levels.

Use = Fibre

Timothy Chaff

Timothy is a horse-friendly grass species, grown well in New Zealand and Australia.

Has lower protein and low sugar levels than lucerne, it is also low in non-structural carbohydrates, which is great for horses that are prone to metabolic issues such as laminitis or insulin resistance. Great fibre.

Use = Fibre, protein, Energy

The Respiratory System and Allergies

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Body Detoxification Process:

Healthy detoxification is largely dependent on a healthy, balanced relationship between the exposure to external toxins, the production of internal toxins from normal metabolism and the ability of the body, in particular the liver and the kidneys, to process and remove them.

Multiple stresses caused by exposure to preservatives, pesticide and herbicide residues, insecticides along with high-sugar, high-starch, highly processed feeds can also contribute to sluggish elimination and detoxification processes.

These environmental and feed related toxins which cannot be eliminated efficiently can result an overloaded immune system particularly affecting the skin and respiratory systems of the horse. Intolerances and allergies can provoke symptoms such as coughing, breathing difficulties, poor coat and hooves, skin rashes and poor performance.

What happens in the horse?

The immune system is extremely complex in the horse, but in a true allergic response the horse becomes hypersensitive to particular allergens, for example pine pollen can cause coughing and asthma attacks when ever the horse is exposed to this particular allergen. Immunity involves activation of specific lymphocytes that combat a particular pathogen or foreign substance.

The body system that carries out immune responses is the lymphatic system.

Equine herbalist Victoria Ferguson writes in her book ‘Horse herbal’ that antibodies circulate throughout the body in the gamma globulin portion of the plasma in the blood. In allergic reactions portions of the antibodies attach to mast cells which release histamine when the matching antigen is encountered.

True allergy lasts forever because antibody levels never completely disappear from the body, ready to circulate and act again upon allergen exposure.

Horse Respiratory System:

Dr Eleanor Kellon, VMD and Horse Nutritionist writes that the first line of defense of the respiratory system is a mucus layer on all surfaces. This traps potential irritants and is a barrier to invaders. There is a rich antioxidant system to both combat incoming problems and protect the tissues from immune system responses. The local immune system is robust but may also be triggered to have strong reactions against irritants and potential allergens.

What to Feed:

The following specific nutrients can support healthy toxic processing and elimination to provide support for the detoxification systems, support the respiration and lung function.

DL-Methionine, the sulphur containing amino acid, is an effective detoxifier of arsenic.

MSM supports healthy detoxification processes, kidney and liver function and oxidative reactions.  It is also effective at improving arsenic elimination.

Magnesium supports cellular energy production, healthy glucose metabolism and acts as a buffer for the acids from toxic exposure and elimination.

Acetyl L-Carnitine is essential in the healthy processing of fatty acids as a source of energy, contributes to healthy endocrine balance and aids in the detoxification of the most common environmental pollutants.

A full vitamin mineral supplement containing:

Niacin (B3), Calcium Pantothenate (B5), Thiamine (B1), Pyridoxine (B6), Riboflavin (B2) and Vitamin B12 support healthy liver function, energy production, metabolic balance, stress recovery and detoxification.

Mixed Tocopherols including Vitamin E support healthy cellular function, help reduce excessive oxidative stress and protect against free radical damage.

Vitamin C is a major antioxidant in the lung and known to be in high concentration in lung tissues and secretions.

Zinc and Copper have synergistic roles in helping combat environmental toxic effects, reducing excessive oxidation and supporting tissue integrity.

Chromium supports normal, healthy glucose metabolism and energy production.

Selenium directly supports healthy detoxification mechanisms, supports liver function, helps fight the effect of environmental toxins and exhibits a cellular protective benefit.


A prescribed herbal mix by an equine practitioner for a full 12 weeks along with a formulated diet is often the best defense when dealing with viruses, allergies and the immune system. Some useful herbs include:

Echinacea the researched and proven antiseptic, immune system boosting herb that is a prophylactic to prevent infection from contagious viral and bacterial infection. Also, a detoxification of resistant infections.

Euphorbia is used for allergic rhinitis and upper respiratory allergies as it is anti-asthmatic and anti-spasmodic to the bronchi.

Antiseptic herbs such as Elecampane or coltsfoot and thyme for respiratory viruses.

Liquorice is an extremely effective expectorant and also an adrenal booster to help energy levels. This is a particularly for horses whose allergies need to be managed by cortisone, as it stimulates the body’s own production of cortisol.

Chamomile is a safe and gentle antispasmodic, calming herb.

Yarrow for tissue repair of damages lungs or airways.

Grindelia stimulates bronchial cilia to move normally thus reducing breathing difficulties it is also a mucous expectorant.

Gingko is an antioxidant, anti-allergy, anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, circulatory stimulant that improves blood flow though the capillaries.

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) has many health promoting properties. Assistance in maintaining relaxed, open airways.

Natural nutrients:

Spirulina is a fresh water, nontoxic, blue-green algae with some unique properties. In addition to excellent antioxidant capacity, Spirulina helps maintain balanced immune function and antibody production as well as stability of the mast cells which store histamine.

MSM and Grapeseed meal and extract are also potent antioxidants in the respiratory system, while citrus bioflavonoids both help bolster antioxidant defenses and contribute to the health of the fragile network of capillaries where gas exchange occurs.

Co enzyme Q10 is also a powerful antioxidant, capable of regenerating other antioxidants, such as vitamin E and vitamin C. In horses, certain forms of CoQ10 are absorbed well and supplementation has been shown to increase CoQ10 levels in serum and muscle.

DL Equine 22 December 2019

Laminitis caused by Insulin Resistance

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What if your horse has lamintis and IR?

It has been estimated that 80% or more of laminitis cases fall under the category of those caused by hormones, such as in the case of horses with PPID and EMS.

Laminitis is now considered to be a clinical syndrome associated with systemic disease (endocrine disease, sepsis or systemic inflammatory response syndrome, SIRS).

The cascade of tissue destruction caused by inflammation does not occur in laminitis related to this hormonal disruption.

Meaning that; Laminitis in IR horses is not inflammatory. This is important because it explains why the response to NSAID drugs (such as ‘Bute’) for pain in IR horses is typically poor and why these drugs do not “treat” anything.

(See research –  Suagee et al 2012 found no correlation between insulin levels and inflammatory cytokines like TNF-alpha and IL-6 that are elevated in IR humans. Vick et al 2007 found a correlation between IR and TNF-alpha levels but only in mares older than 20. No other cytokine changes.  Burns et al 2010 found higher inflammatory cytokine levels in the neck crest fat but no difference between normal and IR horses.)

It also does not mean that heat processed grains or co-product foods like brans or wheat midds cause IR. Food does not cause insulin resistance and many of these co-products are lower in sugar/starch and higher fiber than the whole food.


What else can you feed?

You should also feed potent antioxidant supplements containing both plant based e.g.

  • Rosehips,
  • Grape Seed extract,
  • Boswellia


and nutrient sources

  • N-acetyl-cysteine,
  • vitamin C,
  • lipoic acid,
  • vitamin E

also, pain relief, the liquid herbs Devils claw and meadowsweet together work just as well, if not better, in controlling pain in acute episodes compared to NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) drugs and without the potent side effects.


Supporting blood flow to the hoof is also important.

The herbs which are circulatory stimulants such as:

  • Ginko biloba,
  • Nettle
  • Rue,
  • Jiaogulan, (Gynostemma pentaphylluma)


are extremely potent vasodilators and should only be administered by a qualified equine herbal practitioner.

The proportion of each herb in the mixture and dosage rates varies enormously dependant on each horse and the stage of laminitis.



Laminitis in a nutshell

  • Weakening of the laminae in the hoof
  • Can cause the coffin bone to rotate
  • Extremely painful condition for the horse
  • Can be caused by endocrine (hormonal) factors e.g. PPID or EMS
  • Can be caused by overload of grain or high sugar/starch feeds and pasture
  • First take horse off pasture and stand in a sand pit to alleviate pain of standing on hard ground
  • Feed water soaked hay (leaches out excess sugar)
  • Feed a diet formulated by a nutritionist to give necessary vitamins and minerals
  • Feed liquid herbs prescribed by equine herbal practitioner
  • Feed Flax seed oil
  • Provide pain relief specific to the cause of the laminitis – i.e. NSAID for inflammation caused by sugar/starch. Give Devils claw and Meadowsweet for endocrine related laminitis.