Feeding horses when travelling away DL Equine

Feeding horses when travelling and away from home

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Feeling the excitement of competition this year?

Or are you stressing because your horse is stressing? Have they suddenly lost that glutinous bottomless pit appetite they have at home and seem to have swapped it for a Jenny Craig meal plan?

When you travel away for competition does your horse have poop that would put a cow to shame by producing something that shoots thru the eye of a needle??

So what is happening here is the same as when you get nervous or worried, remember when you had to sit an exam last time? Your stomach did flip flops and you couldn’t eat right? That is essentially what is happening in your horse’s stomach.

Except this is a little worse as the horse’s stomach needs to have a constant supply of forage going thru because of many factors but the most important being there is actual acid in a horse stomach. If there is no forage in the gut to soak it up, then the acid will eat into the lining of the gut creating ulcers and that just plain hurts!

Did I mention there was a major highway of communication going from the gut to the brain and back again? So if the horses stomach hurts it tells the brain I don’t want to eat or signals can come thru that change the horse behaviour (and not usually for the better!).

Much of this is comes with an easy fix! Feed forage and then feed more forage!

The very first thing you need to do is consider “what is my horse going to eat when you are away?” If you are having to pen your horse at a show, even for only one day, they are not having that continual supply of pasture forage. So you need to give something else to keep their tummies and brains happy, like hay or haylage. And I’d recommend a good probiotic too.

But remember those bugs that hang out in the horses’ gut just doing their job of creating energy for the horse’s body? Well think of them as wee fragile little beings that have a bit of a meltdown when things change, and they aren’t ready for it. So introduce into the diet a small amount of that hay or forage that you are taking to the show at least a week before hand, then its all happy days for your horses gut bugs 😉

Feed your horse some hay before you get them on the truck or float, to fill those stomachs with forage. Imagine your stomach when you go on a windy, bouncy ride, things slosh around in there, and again imagine if it’s just acid sitting in there then gut ulcers can start.

Give them access to hay while travelling too.

Then when you are at the show make sure you are feeding 2% of the horse’s bodyweight in forage per day.

If we sum all that up its:

  • Forage
  • More forage
  • Feed it before you need it
  • Gut bugs rule (but only when happy)

Best of luck with competition and happy feeding!

Dale Logan

BSc, Post Grad Dip, Equine Nutrition, Cert Animal Welfare Legislation, Cert Equine Herbal Medicine

DL Equine

DL Equine RAO IAD horses

Respiratory Allergies and the Horse

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Inflammatory airway disease (IAD) and recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) and summer pasture-associated obstructive pulmonary disease (SPAOPD) (collectively referred to as equine asthma syndrome) can negatively impact the overall health and performance of the equid.

These diseases cause excessive inflammation and airway mucous production, characterized by recurrent cough, respiratory distress, and exercise intolerance to varying degrees.

RAO generally affects horses over the age of 7, whereas IAD can affect any age.

(Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD),the terminology formerly used for “heaves,” describing a hypersensitivity response associated with exposure to inhaled antigens, is no longer in use as it is considered a part of RAO)

These represent a range of chronic inflammatory disease of the airways in horses. These equine respiratory diseases show common characteristics with human asthma and these disorders, particularly the lower airways, are the most frequently diagnosed conditions in sport horses evaluated for poor performance.

The estimated prevalence of RAO in the northern hemisphere is about 14%, with incidence and severity of the disease increasing with age and stabling; RAO is a common reason for the career’s end of sport horses. Since RAO was much better defined over the last 20 years than IAD, equine asthma literature mainly focused on RAO. However, there is an increased risk for IAD horses to develop RAO.

Numerous management factors impact the development and trajectory of equine asthma syndrome. Environmental conditions, housing, and feed can all have deleterious effects on the equine respiratory system. While genetics can also influence the risk of equine asthma syndrome, with disease prevalence being greater (approximately 30%) in half sibling families from a sire with inherent disease susceptibility.

However stabling and management practices are the most common causes. Exposure to dust and its constituents (fine particles of feeds, straw, feces, microorganisms, mites, toxins of microbial origin, and chemically active substances like ammonia) is the most important challenge to the respiratory tract. This exposure causes an allergic reaction or hypersensitivity to airborne particles.

What happens in the horse?

Horses with heaves, those with recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) and summer pasture-associated RAO, exhibit marked lower airway inflammation and obstruction associated with frequent coughing, increased respiratory effort at rest, and exercise intolerance.

Recurrent airway obstruction principally affects horses over seven years of age.

In contrast, inflammatory airway disease (IAD) can affect horses of all ages, and clinical signs are usually subtle, including poor performance and occasional coughing but with normal breathing at rest.

Racehorses and non-racehorses of all ages and from any breed/discipline can have IAD. Clinical signs of IAD include decreased performance and chronic, intermittent cough.

These signs are nonspecific and can be subtle. Poor racing performance in racehorses and reduced willingness to perform in showjumpers and dressage horses are associated with excess tracheal mucus.

Horses affected with SPAOPD are typically over 8yrs of age and are often kept at pasture for more than 12hrs per day. High environmental temperature and humidity are associated with clinical exacerbation of the disease.

Clinical signs range from exercise intolerance and coughing, to laboured breathing and increased respiratory effort, as well as wheezing and in the long-term, weight loss. Some horses will suddenly present with severe dyspnoea (nostril flaring and in severe cases open mouth breathing), which will require immediate emergency veterinary treatment.

Horse Respiratory System:

As horses are obligate nasal breathers they are predisposed to inhaling dust, pollen, spores etc from the environment. The anatomical defences of the upper respiratory tract protect the airways, in that much of this inhaled material is filtered from the surrounding environment. However, very small particles (less than 5-10 microns in diameter) are able to bypass this mechanism and reach the lungs, which in turn initiates a non-specific immune response.

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 these irritants and potential allergens.

Horses can develop an allergy upon first exposure to a substance: John Madigan, BS, DVM, MS, professor of equine medicine in the department of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine says. “You can have a hypersensitivity to something the first time you see it. On the other hand, it might take weeks, months or even years for an allergy to emerge. A 20-year-old horse with no history of allergies can one day appear to have an allergic reaction.”

High dust concentrations are common in the environment of conventional stables, and several studies have identified the stabling of horses as a risk factor for IAD. Within this environment, the respirable fraction can contain various organic and inorganic particles, including fungi, molds, endotoxin, beta-D-glucan, and other ultrafine particles. A horse can also develop allergy to pollens and grasses in their environment.

Obstruction to airflow is because of the thickening of the airway wall, contraction of the bronchial muscles (bronchospasm) and excessive production of mucous and neutrophils (white blood cells) which are part of the inflammatory response, accumulating in the airway lumen.

As stated above feed hygiene and the development of IAD and RAO is related to the presence of contaminants (ie., dust, mould, bacteria, microorganisms). The more contaminated the feed, the higher likelihood of developing respiratory inflammation (Kamphues, 2013).

Round- bale hay feeding is also considered significant risk factors in the development of RAO. General hay forage is one of the most common sources of dust. Routine hay analysis can assist with risk stratification when using stored hay be quantifying pathogen content. When unwanted organisms are present, hay can be soaked for 30 minutes prior to feeding or steamed. Hay steaming has been shown to reduce mould contamination by over 99%.

When combined with soaking, mould content is virtually eliminated and steaming improves the hygienic quality of the hay (Martinson, et al., 2012; Moore-Colyer, 1996; Raymond, et al., 1997). 

Other environmental pollens that horses can potentially be exposed to which can create an allergy are: Grass Pollens, Weed Pollens, Rye, perennial, Plantain, Timothy, Mugwort, Birch, Orchard Grass (cocksfoot), Ragweed, Sweet Vernal, Dock, yellow/curly Privet, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Grass (Kentucky bluegrass), Oil Seed Rape and more.

What to do:

Testing: A tentative diagnosis of SPAOPD can be made based on history and clinical signs. Definitive diagnosis requires endoscopic examination and sampling of the respiratory tract, along with confirmatory testing to identify allergens.

Currently, two diagnostic tools are used for confirmatory testing to identify allergens. Intradermal skin testing and serum IgE tests, which measure allergen specific IgE.

Synthesis of IgE after exposure to the allergen instigates the allergic process and while IgE exerts its effect after binding to mast cell receptors, the presence of free IgE in the serum can be used to quantify and determine the allergen specificity:

Intradermal Testing (IDT) measures the ability of the injected allergen to bind to allergen-specific immunoglobulins on the surface of mast cells and to cause actual mast cell degranulation. It has been the ‘gold’ standard for diagnosis of allergic diseases. However, this requires the horse to be sedated, is time-consuming to perform and can result in false positive results in horses.

Serological testing (ELISA) has been identified as an aid in the diagnosis of allergic disease. UK testing involves the use of a highly specific monoclonal antibody to avoid cross reactivity with other immunoglobulins to test for UK native species of plant allergens. The test is not influenced by existing dermatological conditions or existing medication. Occasional false positives have been reported in horses.

Manage the horse’s environment to avoid exposure to the allergens.

Moving horses away from pine trees or oil seed rape crops is an option; however, in most cases this is not practical.

In addition to:

  • Keep horse at pasture if stabling produces dust borne allergens that irritate.
  • Keep stables open (doors at each end)
  • Airflow is important.
  • Control/eliminate dust by always sweeping up and removing left over hay.
  • Fresh non allergenic bedding.
  • Feed soaked hay or hay cubes
  • Fresh clean water always available
  • Feed should be as clean as possible and free of mould/dust/fungi etc.
  • Feed off ground.
  • Research has shown that utilizing an ammonia-absorbing compound significantly reduced measured ammonia concentrations by 25% (Pratt et al., 2000). In their 1996 study, Sweeny et al. demonstrated a significant reduction in ammonia levels and fly population when stalls were treated with sodium bisulfate.

Nutritional Support:

In some cases there can be a necessary treatment with therapeutic drugs such as corticosteroids. However, there are many feedstuffs that can achieve permanent remission of the disorder.

The established role of oxidants in asthma and ROA promoted the feeding of antioxidants as preventive agents and has been demonstrated through supportive research. The supplementation of Vitamin E and Selenium demonstrated stable clinical remission of Heaves in exercised horses.

The following specific nutrients can further 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 defence when dealing with viruses, allergies, and the immune system. www.dlequine.co.nz

  • 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 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.
  • 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 defences 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.

More resources:

Auger, E. & Moore-Colyer, M. (2016). The effect of management regime on airborne respirable dust concentrations in two different types of horse stable design. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 51. 105-109.

Couetil, L, et al., (2016). Inflammatory airway disease of horses- Revised consensus statement. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 30, 503-515.

Equine Health, 2 May 2019Volume 2019Issue 47

Martinson et al., (2012). The effect of soaking on protein and mineral loss in orchardgrass and alfalfa hay. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 32 (12). 776-782.

Moore-Colyer, et al., (2014). The effect of five different wetting treatments on the nutrient content and microbial concentration in hay for horses. Plos One, 9 (11).

Moore-Colyer, M. (1996). Effects of soaking hay fodder for horses on dust and mineral content. Animal Science, 63. 337-342

Pratt, et al., (2000). Measurement of ammonia concentrations in horse stalls. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 20 (3). 197-200.

Raymond, et al., (1997). A comparison of respirable particles associated with various forage products for horses. Equine Practice: The Journal of Equine Medicine and Surgery for the Practitioner, 19 (2). 23-26.

Saastamoinen et al., (2015). Reducing respiratory health risks to horses and workers: A comparison of two stall bedding materials. Animals, 5 (4), 965-977.

Sweeny et al., (1996). Effect of sodium bisulfate on ammonia concentration, fly population, and manure pH in a horse barn. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 57 (12). 1795-1798.

Vandenput, et al., (1997). Airborne dust and aeroallergen concentrations in different sources of feed and bedding for horses. Veterinary Quarterly, 19 (4). 154-158.

Autumn flush grass and your horse behaviour and gut

Autumn Flush Grass and your Horse

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Hi team, how is your grass doing?

Im betting many of you that have had all the rain this last week have seen an massive change from brown to green in you new grass growth?

If you have this happening in your horses’ paddocks guess what else is happening? Got some unwanted silly horse behaviour happening?

So what exactly is happening inside your horse?

Well right now they grass has gone from feeling stressed with the continual heat and no moisture to throwing a party at the wet humid conditions and throwing everything it can into growing and turning on all its photosynthesis into making sugars.

The formerly stressed grass holds onto these sugars for dear life and guess who gets to eat them? Yup your lucky normally sane little unicorn.

Next this high sugar hits your horses foregut, the foregut yells ‘ I cant cope” and it is rushes this sugar thru really really fast compared to the old high fibre low sugar boring slow grass from last week.

This high sugar stuff hits the hind gut super quickly.

In here the normally stable ph levels drop too quickly and conditions change too fast upsetting all balance. This condition of the microbiome in the gut of the horse then has effects on things like behaviour.

Why? because trough the “gut-brain axis” it appears that the microbes in the gut are in communication with the brain.

Think of the hindgut as a a playground of microbes on a soft ball team. When it has that long term feed of high fibre the teams playing are all in blue (all steady slow league fibre fermenters).

The high sugar rushed in and the blue team finds it doesn’t have enough players to cope and has to sub on a new team of red players. These guys hit hard and fast and are angry!

The whole playground dissolves into a brawl! Ok so I may have gone overboard on the analogy but you get the jist right?

Too much high sugar makes for one unhappy gut an one upset horse and humans asking where did my lovely pony gallop off to??

So what to do? Add more fibre, chaff, hay, old pasture (anything very low sugar).

Please see previous blog on website for your sugar and NSC terms and values. Strip graze, exercise more. Add fats instead of grain for energy. Add probiotics to the diet.

Get your diet balanced by an equine nutritionist NOW. An unbalanced diet in all your horses vitamins and minerals will exacerbate all the problems.

For more information see:https://dlequine.co.nz/…/fructans-fibre-sugar-nsc-what…/https://dlequine.co.nz/inde…/2020/05/27/mycotoxin-binders/https://dlequine.co.nz/…/new-spring-and-autumn-grass…/

DL Equine hoof quality, seedy toe and infection

Hoof quality, seedy toe and infections

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I had a great question from a client this week , Katie writes: “our paddocks are wet in winter, and last winter one of the four horses had a bit of greasy heel, and another got some seedy toe. I know that nutrition is important for these conditions and they are all on a diet that balances but would it help to add more of anything, such as copper/zinc? And would that be something we did all year around or just seasonally.”

My answer share here; Hey there and thank you for the great question.

Agh wet muddy paddocks are the worst for us horse owners, I think I look at the weather report more than Dan the weatherman in the winter!

So first off lets define greasy heel in the horse: This is an inflammatory condition of the skin called dermatitis. It usually presents in the lower leg, particularly non pigmented skin. The lesions appear as scaling, crusting etc, and can be due to a number of skin issues caused by organisms such as fungi, bacteria and even mites.

Greasy heel can be caused by the constant exposure to above mentioned wet and dreaded muddy conditions. Also low heel conformation. These wet continual conditions breakdown the skin on the legs of their natural barrier to unwanted organisms like bacteria, causing dermatitis. This looks like swelling and a rash which can evolve into scabs and crusts.

Seedy toe is actually a separation of the horse’s hoof wall from the underlying sensitive laminae at the white line, resulting in a cavity that fills with crumbling dirt, horn and debris and is prone to associated infection. This can occur in laminitc and also non-laminitic hooves where conformation is compromised by long toe/low heel shape. Then bacteria set in causing more damage.

So for both conditions having a good farrier keep your horses hooves at the correct angles and regularly trimmed is essential.

Paddock management is to try and get your horses onto a dry area for a part of the day or night if you can. Tape off muddy gateways so they don’t stand in wet mud all day.

If there is lameness always seek veterinary advice.

In regard to nutrition:

You are absolutely correct in that your horses need copper and zinc in their diet.

The key nutrients for the maintenance of the hoof wall include the vitamin pyridoxine (B6) essential amino acids methionine and lysine as well as trace minerals (copper and zinc especially).

Copper is a mineral involved in bone collagen stabilisation, elastin synthesis, the mobilisation of the bodies iron stores and melanin (pigment) synthesis. The NRC recommendation of 10 mg of copper/kg of diet DM consumed/day still appears to be adequate for mature horses.

What is important is that copper should be fed in a specific ratio with zinc.

Zinc is a component of many metalloenzymes in the body that are involved in the metabolism of protein and carbohydrate (metalloenzymes are enzymes that contain one or more metal ions in their active state).

The exact dietary requirement of zinc for horses is not well defined, however, the optimum dietary zinc intake appears to be between 40 mg of zinc/kg of DM consumed/day and 80 mg of zinc/kg of DM consumed/day.

Hoof quality suffers with copper and zinc deficiency. Deficiencies of either copper or zinc have been linked to soft hooves, cracks and thrush etc.

Impressive improvements in hoof quality are often seen following adequate zinc and copper supplementation. Because of zincs apparent effect on copper metabolism, it should be included in the diet in a ratio of no more than 3 – 5 parts zinc to 1-part copper.

So if you still with me and your eyes haven’t glazed over yet….what else can you feed to help your horses feet?

So you have already balanced your copper and zinc then make sure your horse has adequate Vitamin B6 and amino acids in their diet. Cool season grasses and lucerne are generally higher in in amino acids than say meadow so get to know your grass species and if your paddocks are more rye or warm season grasses like teff (if you are in Australia) then you could potentially add a supplement for these to the diet or alternatively feed a chaff or hay of lucerne.

Then there is the vitamin Biotin. (B7).

Biotin is essential in the conversion of feedstuffs to energy so horses can grow, work, and reproduce. Biotin is found in virtually every cell in the body and is an essential coenzyme in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. KER research tells us that – ‘this B-vitamin is also important for normal thyroid and adrenal gland function, reproductive tract health, nervous system stability, and most dramatically, growth and repair of skin and hooves.’

Many feed stores will try and sell you a biotin supplement to add to your already expensive feed. However, some facts to think about here are:

Biotin is contained in most feeds and forages, especially fresh green forages. So deficiency here not usually an issue in most areas of NZ and some parts of Australia, unless your paddocks are completely overgrazed.

Also important is the fact that the microbes in a healthy horse’s hind gut produce biotin which is made available to the horse.

The crucial word here is healthy!

If your horse is healthy it should be able to produce its own biotin and also use its copper and zinc appropriately for healthy hooves. When a horse’s body comes under stress things can change rapidly.

By stress I actually mean, competition, cold weather, travelling and working. It ALL affects the gut!

Specifically here the gut microbes get out of balance this can affect biotin synthesis, resulting in less biotin availability. So in this case you would want to feed more biotin to your horse.

Research has shown that Biotin only improves the growth of new hoof horn, not existing hoof. Because of this, the results of biotin supplementation took eight to 15 months to complete, depending on the growth rate of the hoof. This is the length of time necessary for the hoof wall to completely grow out and replace itself.

We horse people aren’t known for patience when it comes to wanting to see our horses get healthy fast, but hooves take time…bit like pantene 😊

Research has also proven that the function and strength of the barrier fats in the hoof is strongly influenced by the ceramide content. That, in turn, responds to biotin supplementation.

The requirement of the horse is unknown but research has shown favourable response to a dose of 20 to 30 mg/day for the average horse.

Feed fats; The horse is capable of synthesizing all the fats needed for the hoof wall with the exception of essential fatty acids. No dietary minimum requirement has been set for fat in the equine diet but supplemental fat often noticeably contributes to coat and hoof quality. So the addition of a good fat such as flaxseed oil (excellent Omega 3 to 6 ratio) can help.

Hoof oils; Topical hoof dressings are no substitute for a healthy hoof but if you find your horse is in trouble they can be helpful while you work toward maximizing hoof nutritional support. The best hoof oils are natural and soak into the hoof and contain antibacterial and antifungal ingredients like the DL Equine Hoof Oil, containing Flaxseed oil and extracts of Comfrey and Carrot Seed to prevent infection.

To help your horses further with preventing the dreaded mud issues this winter remember the horses gut changes and their resultant health can change with every season and event. Your horses diet needs to be adjusted to suit, as much as we would like, nothing stays the same and diets are always a balancing act.

The fact that you are already thinking of ways to prevent these issues shows you are a responsible horse owner and already on the right track with your horses health!

Amino Acids Equine Nutrition

Amino Acids

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What are they?

The building blocks of protein.

22 of these aa function within the horse’s body.

Every aa is an individual with different unique identities. Such as basic or alkaline or neutral.

aa link together and make chains. This gives rise to combinations for different properties, such as peptides or polypeptides.

Proteins are formed by linking long chains of aa.

These make up areas of the horse such as hair, skin, blood cells and hormones etc…

Best way I have heard to visualize individual aa is from Dr J Nichols of Stride Animal Health, these would be as letters: e, j, a, n, r, I, d.

If you start linking these aa together you get words e.g., jane sees

When you link words, you get sentences e.g., jane see land.

And finally, you get a full story if enough are linked together.  The story of how jane was sailing till she saw land….This would be your protein!

Essential Amino Acids

These are that certain aa that a horse MUST consume from their feed in order for their body to work properly. The horses cannot make these on its own.

Think of these as the vowels that are necessary to link letters together in order to make an actual word.  If the diet is deficient in essential aa the body simply can’t work properly.

e.g. you can have letters (aa) present such as TH  H  R S  LS W NT S  L NG

You can’t read this sentence; it doesn’t make sense until you put the vowels in. The same as the body can’t work properly unless you add the ALL the essential aa into the diet.

Like this: The horse also went sailing!

Missing even one essential aa can result in the horse not reaching peak performance.

There are 10 essential aa. Lysine is the most important aa for a horse. It is called the first limiting aa. This means that if there is not enough lysine in the diet the body cannot make enough protein for its systems to work.

Like trying to write a novel without being able to use the letter E!

What do amino acids do?

They are the building blocks of protein. Protein has hundreds of functions within the horse’s body.

The proteins are broken down within the gut cells to individual aa which are moved thru into the blood where they can then be used by the tissues within the body.

A few functions requiring aa are:

Building muscle

Organ tissues – (hair, hooves and skin etc.)

Immune system functions

Body stamina – rebuilding and repairing muscle


What happens when your horse is amino acid deficient?

Your horse gets decreased immunity. As aa are used in many areas such as activating lymphocytes and in the production of antibodies.

Poor gut health will result from not enough aa which work for intestinal lining integrity and mucosal mass etc.

AA are converted to neurotransmitters in the brain, deficiencies can have an affect on mental health such as the ability to concentrate or relax.

Reduced stamina and muscle mass will result from deficient aa.

What feeds contain amino acids?

Amino acids are contained in pasture, hay and forages. Lucerne is a great source of aa and protein.  However, the older the hay or chaff the less active aa present.

Sources high in quality protein aa are legumes such as soybeans, tick beans, lupins.

Horse owners can also feed essential aa in powdered or pelleted form.

If the horse is under stress, travelling, competing or requiring more weight and muscle mass, has bad hooves or coat health, or breeding then supplementation is extremely helpful.

Note: Crude Protein (such as on a feed tag on a feed bag) is simply a measure of Nitrogen. NOT the measure of aa profile. Always look at the amino acid actually stated to be in the feed.

©Dale Logan

DL Equine

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. See https://dlequine.co.nz/index.php/diet-programmes-and-herbal-formulas/ for a carefully formulated diet.

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. https://dlequine.co.nz/index.php/diet-programmes-and-herbal-formulas/

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 Nutritionisthttps://dlequine.co.nz/index.php/diet-programmes-and-herbal-formulas/

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