What is a Low-Starch Diet for Horses?

What is a Low-Starch Diet for Horses?

horse feeding

If you’ve ever wondered what is a low-starch diet for horses, and more importantly, should my horse be on one, then you’re not alone.  However, it isn’t ideal for all horses. Ultimately, it will depend on their caloric requirements, the work they’re in and existing health conditions..

Forages should of course be the basis of any diet and are 75-90% carbohydrates. Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and some fibre. These carbohydrates found in pasture and hay fall into two broad categories: nonstructural and structural.  So horses actually rely on carbohydrates as the largest portion of their diet.  Especially soluble and insoluble fibres that make up forage.

Carbs, sugars and starches in forage.

Non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) in forages are simple sugars and fructans and can be readily digested or fermented by horses. They are produced in plants during warmer weather, and are higher in more immature forages. Pasture is usually lowest in NSCs in the early morning unless overnight temperatures are cold.  However, these carbohydrates can affect some disease processes, so you need to monitor how much your horse eats.

Carbs, sugars, and starches in your horse’s hard feed

Grain based hard feeds contain carbohydrates, including simple sugars and starch. Grains such as barley, maize and oats are high in NSCs, mostly starches. Starches are long chains of attached sugar molecules. These sugars get broken apart during the digestive process and the simple sugars (glucose) readily absorbed. Most horses can digest and absorb sugars and starches in the small intestine through a process called hydrolysis. From there, glucose in the bloodstream triggers the pancreas to release insulin.  Then the glucose molecules move into cells for storage as glycogen.  This is the fuel for the working muscles.

If there’s more starch in a single meal than the horse can digest, starch will enter the caecum, (the first part of the hindgut after the small intestine). Any undigested starch here is rapidly fermented creating lactic acid.  This lowers hindgut pH, killing the good bacteria that live there. The endotoxins released from microbial death can then contribute to both colic and laminitis.   

So, just how much starch is in a low-starch diet for horses?

 A “low-starch” feed usually contains less than 15% starch, but some feed companies might classify low-starch as any feed below 20%.  Compare this to a traditional hard feed with grains such as barley, maize and oats as its base.  These types of feed might be as much as 40-60% starch.  A “mid-level” starch content is usually between 20 and 25%. Whilst many horses are fed high starch feeds seemingly without problems, the key consideration that still remains for any horse is how much starch is fed in any one meal.

Ultimately, there is no single definition of a “low- starch” diet as both sugar and starch concentrations are important. Therefore, it’s better that feeds are referred to as ‘low-sugar and starch’ or ‘low nonstructural-carbohydrates (NSC).  NSC is a laboratory measure containing starch plus all water-soluble carbs (sugars and fructans). The recommendation for horses with metabolic issues therefore is not actually low-starch but low-Non-Structural Carbohydrates.  So, if f low starch/low NSC is a primary concern for your horse and it’s not quoted on your bag of feed, then contact the feed manufacturer directly to find out.

Starch Content of Common Feed Ingredients

Feed Ingredient  Starch %
Legume hay (besides lucerne) 1.56
Grass Hay 1.65
Lucerne Cubes 1.51
Oaten Hay 4.03
Mixed, Mostly Grass, Pasture 2.00
Grass Pasture 2.08
Beet Pulp, Dried, No Molasses 0.99
Maize, Whole Grain 69.44
Oats, Dried 43.96
Oat Hulls 14.90
Rice Bran 22.85
Wheat Bran 23.59
Soybeans, Dried 2.27
Soybean Hulls 1.20
Soybean Meal 1.65
Carrots, Wet 2.18
Lucerne Hay 2.50
Lucerne Pellets 2.08
Mill Run/Mix 26.20

Data collected from Equi-Analytical Laboratories

When should your horse have a low-starch diet?

For some horses with certain health conditions, vets and nutritionists might recommend a low-starch diet to help maintain blood glucose at a steady level. These are conditions that cause horses to become more sensitive to sugars and starches. This then means that owners will need to reduce these levels in both forages and concentrates. Individual horses have variable responses related to a variety of factors, including age, body condition, fitness, metabolic status, and disease status.

Obesity and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS)

These metabolic conditions are of major concern and there needs to be an overall reduction in calories consumed, not just from starches. Some breeds, especially pony breeds are “metabolically thrifty”, so they’re able to readily convert glucose into fat for storage. They will benefit from a lower-quality forage and no hard feed.  This is where a quality feed balancer supplement such as one from the Fibregenix range, is ideal.  It will  provide vitamins, minerals, protein, fatty acids and other essential nutrients to bridge nutritional gaps in forage.

Insulin dysregulation (ID)

Insulin dysregulation is considered a component of EMS.  In affected horses or ponies, insulin is not effective at transporting glucose from the bloodstream into cells, so both remain elevated. This can increase susceptibility to laminitis. Horses with this condition are extremely sensitive to starches. Ideally, they should be on as low a starch and, specifically, soluble-carbohydrate diet as possible.

Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, formerly Equine Cushing’s)

This  endocrine disease mostly affects horses or ponies over the age of 15. Some, but not all, PPID horses will require a lower-starch diet. PPID horses that are also insulin-dysregulated are the ones which will benefit.  However, some PPID horses are thin, non-insulin-dysregulated, and they need calories.  In such cases a more traditional NSC level is fine.

Polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM)

Horses with this muscle disorder often have a normal glucose/ insulin metabolic process. They’re unable to use the form of glucose stored in their cells as energy and are also susceptible to tying-up (exertional rhabdomyolysis).  This is the breakdown or destruction of skeletal muscle cells associated with exercise.


Laminitis prone horses and ponies  should also have diets low in soluble carbohydrates and starch. Elevated levels of starch reaching the hindgut can lead to hindgut acidosis, killing off the good microbes. This releases endotoxins, which can negatively affect enzymes involved in maintaining the integrity of the laminae in the hoof leading to laminitis. Susceptible horses should not be allowed to graze immature or lush, rapidly growing pasture routinely found in spring and early autumn.

Gastric ulcers (EGUS)

Signs of this condition include poor performance, poor attitude, and mild colic. Horses prone to ulcers and hindgut acidosis benefit from a low-starch/high fibre diet. This is because chewing and consuming fibrous carbohydrates produces more saliva which in turn helps reduce acidity in the stomach.


Anxious or hyperactive horses may also benefit from less starch in their diets. Multiple studies (Bulmer et al., 2019; Destrez et al., 2015) have focussed on the diet’s effect on behaviour. But more recently, they’ve focussed on the “why” behind this. The latest studies have revealed that glucose is a sugar that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. Elevated glucose levels are associated with increased dopamine production.  And this can lead to elevated awareness or hyperexcitability.

Should you change your horse to a low-starch diet?

If your horse doesn’t have any of the aforementioned conditions, then he probably doesn’t need a low-starch diet. In fact, performance horses benefit from a diet with readily available carbohydrates needed to replace the stored glycogen in skeletal muscle.  Especially those that do anaerobic exercise (short bursts of high-intensity training) during work.   When muscle glycogen is low, the muscle adapts by slowing contraction rate and power to conserve fuel (glycogen). This is obviously not desirable in a competition horse. Traditional hard feeds with grains such as barley, maize and oats as its base might be as much as 40-60% starch. A “mid-level” starch content is usually between 20 and 25%. Whilst many horses are fed high starch feeds seemingly without problems, the key consideration that still remains for any horse is how much starch is fed in any one meal.

Similarly, hard keepers might not be good candidates for low-starch feeds either, unless you increase the fat content in the diet. These horses need more readily available calories than the fibrous ingredients often used in low- starch feeds.

The table below shows ideal targets to follow when considering how much starch your horse should have.

% starch in your hard feed IDEAL TARGET
To avoid starch overload,rapid fermention in the h/gut 50-65% for sweet feeds, 45-75% for straight grains <2g/kg BW/meal
To avoid risk of gastric ulcer syndrome


For metabolic disorders such as IR, Cushings, laminitis etc



Making Changes To a Horse’s Diet Safely

Any changes MUST be slow and gradual so as not to upset the hindgut microflora. Gut microbes must have time to adjust to a new diet, so it’s generally accepted to make the complete transition over about two weeks.

For horses needing a low-starch concentrate, transition them the same way you would to any new diet. Start with a meal that is ¼ of the new feed and ¾ old feed and stay at this level for four days. Move up to ½ and ½ for another four days. Then switch to ¾ new feed and ¼ old feed for another four days. By the end of this period, you should be able to feed a full meal of the new feed. If you are concerned about NSC levels in forage, then limit pasture access when they’re elevated (e.g. during spring grass growth).  Soak hay before feeding. Just remember to discard the soak water, so the horse doesn’t drink it.​

What if a sudden change can’t be avoided?

Sometimes, the transition to a low-starch diet has to happen suddenly. For instance, after a metabolic event (e.g., laminitis) where the horse is moved from lush pasture to being yarded. Or begins to wear a grazing muzzle. In these cases, you don’t have days or weeks to make the change. So watch your horse carefully for signs of digestive disturbance such as diaorrhea. If signs develop (and if possible), back off the transition rate and make the conversion more slowly.

What if you have more than one horse and only one requires a low-starch diet? You might be tempted to think you could feed all the horses the same feed.  However, whilst it may make feeding more convenient, you still have to consider each individual horse’s needs and feed accordingly.

Feeding for individual needs

What if you have more than one horse and only one requires a low-starch diet? Tempted to feed all the horses the same feed? Whilst it may make feeding more convenient, you still have to consider each individual horse’s needs.

5 Take-home messages

  • A low-starch diet might be a suitable option for your horse, but it depends on his health status.
  • Horses in good body condition, fit for their discipline, with high caloric demands can cope on a more traditional feed containing higher starch levels. Even so, care must still be taken with how much starch is fed in any one meal.
  • Before making any changes, talk to your vet or an equine nutritionist.
  • Find out how much starch is in your horse’s feed when the term “low starch” is used. This will ensure you are making decisions based on the best information available.
  • Always make any changes to the diet gradually so as not to upset the digestive microbes.
Feeding Senior Horses

Feeding Senior Horses

Balanced diets are particularly important when it comes to feeding the senior horse.  As horses get older the digestive system can be compromised and become inefficient at absorbing nutrients from the diet. Therefore, a balanced diet with enhanced levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients is required.  Another problem is that as horses get older their appetite can also decrease. Therefore, it makes sense to provide nutrient-dense feeds which won’t overburden his digestive system.

Senior horses can begin to lose condition easily, especially during the winter months, and keeping them looking well can often be a challenge. This blog provides tips on how best to feed your senior horse for a comfortable and happy life in his twilight years.

Feeding the Senior Horse Forage
This should form the basis of every horse’s diet, whether as pasture and/or hay.  Generally, long-stem forage (hay or haylage) should be fed at 1.5% – 2% of body weight per day.  It should NEVER fall below 1% of body weight per day so it’s essential that all horses have their forage requirements met.  This can easily be done using forage replacers if your veteran struggles to consume enough long-stem forage.

There are three primary considerations that you should take into account when feeding the senior horse:

  1. Ease of chewing
  2. Digestibility of nutrients
  3. Palatability

Ease of chewing/Poor dentition

Feeding a horse or pony with poor dentition can be a real challenge.  Dental problems are common in older horses and frequently result in loss of body condition. Birth defects such as ‘parrot mouth’ can cause digestive issues throughout the horse’s life.

Signs that may indicate your veteran is having problems chewing will include quidding’. This is when lumps of partially chewed hay or food will be spat out and left on the floor. If the length of the fibres in the horse’s droppings are also getting longer, this is another indication he isn’t digesting his fibre properly.  Veterans horses should, therefore, have their teeth checked at least 6 monthly or any time chewing problems occur.

Fibre is ESSENTIAL to maintain a healthy digestive system in any horse, old or young. If your veteran can’t cope with chewing long-stem forage, you may need to offer a more easily chewed form of fibre eg beet pulp.

balancer pellets

Fibregenix balancer supplement

A Fibregenix balancer is also ideal being nutrient-dense and manufactured in small pellets, which makes it easier for veterans with poor dentition to eat.  It can be fed by hand or made into a tempting mash by the addition of warm water.

Digestibility of Nutrients – Best Diet Strategies for Feeding the Senior Horse

Feeding your Senior Horse Fats

Fat contains up to 2.5 times more energy than carbohydrates. So it’s an excellent way of increasing the energy density of your horse’s ration without dramatically increasing the amount you’re feeding. Always opt for a fat product that is high in the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 essential fatty acid compared to Omega 6.

Feeding the Senior horse, the Balancer way

The most effective way to feed a veteran with poor dentition is with a high-quality feed balancer such as one from the Fibregenix range. This will ensure a nutritionally balanced diet without having to feed large quantities of hard feed and additional supplements.

All the balancers in the Fibregenix range contain the revolutionary ingredient, Nucleotides. These building blocks of DNA and RNA and are found naturally in the horse’s diet, but at low levels.  All horses and ponies can benefit from their inclusion in the diet but they are especially beneficial to veterans. Nucleotides increase the length of the intestinal villi in the gut. This can increase nutrient absorption, enabling your veteran to get more out of his diet.  Nucleotides also support the immune system by facilitating the immune cells, helping to fight viral and bacterial infections. Fibregenix are the only feed balancer supplements in Australia to incorporate this remarkable ingredient.

Feeding the Senior horse for Condition

Fibregenix Platinum Pro is perfect for veterans that need to maintain or gain condition. Mixed with appropriate amounts of chaff and beet pulp, it provides a great alternative to a haynet.  Platinum Pro is ideal as its nutrient-dense formulation provides enhanced levels of essential key nutrients in a highly bioavailable form for older horses.  Also included is Actisaf Yeast probiotic which increases fibre digestion and allows your veteran to utilise the fibre in his diet more efficiently.  This, in turn, can promote extra valuable calories. Platinum Pro also contains high-quality protein to provide the necessary amino acids.  These are vital for maintaining muscle mass which is often a problem for the older horse.

MOS and FOS prebiotics will help to boost the immune system and remove pathogenic bacteria from the foregut.  Furthermore, a comprehensive hoof supplement is included with biotin, lysine and zinc and elevated levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. All Fibregenix balancers are whole-cereal and molasses free and contain a natural form of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.

Feeding the Senior Horse to Manage Obesity and Metabolic Issues.

veteran horse

Our 26-year-old veteran, Churizo on Lami Low-Cal


Some veterans hold their weight well or can be prone to laminitis or other metabolic or hormonal issues.  This is when feeding the senior horse a low starch, low sugar, low-calorie balancer supplement such as Lami Low-Cal can help.  This high fibre specialist diet balancer supplement contains every essential nutrient required every day without encouraging any weight gain.

Feeding the Senior Horse for Ageing Joints

It’s inevitable that over the year some sort of joint issues will occur. Degenerative and inflammatory joint issues such as arthritis are extremely common in older horses. Keeping your veteran comfortable and mobile is another key consideration, as constant pain can affect his condition. This is where feeding a superior joint supplement such as Fibregenix Liquid Joint & Bone RLF will help to nourish and protect joints. By helping to delay the onset of joint problems you can ensure your veteran has a happier and healthier lifestyle.  Read more about Liquid Joint & bone RLF here

3 More Top tips for managing your veterans this winter

1) If you don’t have one already, invest in a weight tape and use it fortnightly to monitor your veteran’s body condition. This allows you to pick up any changes in your veteran’s condition much quicker than by the eye alone.

2) Maintain a regular dental AND worming programme. Some older horses are more difficult to keep condition on, not because of their age, but because of parasite damage over the years

3) Remember that horses can use up to 80% of their feed energy just keeping warm. Make sure your veteran is adequately rugged and, if living out, ensure that he has shelter from the wind and rain

Reduce Feeding Costs

Reduce Feeding Costs

Reduce Feeding Costs

We know current times are extremely hard. Are you worried about the cost of your horse’s supplements and hard feeds?  Are you considering reducing feeds to cut costs?  How will you do this without your horse losing condition, topline or coat/hoof condition?

Maybe you’ve had to make cutbacks in your horse’s diet due to a reduced workload or to simply save dollars.  If you’ve had to opt for a simpler fibre-based diet, what should you feed alongside it?  A vitamin/mineral supplement?  An additional gut supplement?  Extra protein plus something for hooves and coat? All or some of these things?

If you’re currently feeding any of the above supplements, why not consolidate EVERYTHING into just one product?  But which product should you choose for the most effectiveness, ease of use, dollar saving, peace of mind and the best results?

To help you choose, we explain the most common types of feed products and what they do for your horse.

Complete feeds, Hard Feeds, Fibregenix balancer supplements – What’s the difference?

Reduce Feeding Costs with a Complete feed – What is it?

A feed that contains everything your horse needs in his diet including the forage.


It can be fed as the sole ration—no need for hay or pasture –  just provide water and the complete feed.

High fibre and is ideal for senior horses that can’t chew or fully utilise hay or pasture


Tends to have very large serving sizes, often around 1.5% of the horse’s bodyweight so a bag won’t last very long.

People often provide additional forage/grazing, so your horse can be getting too much for his daily needs.

Adding additional forage or supplementation defies the purpose of a complete feed making it cost-ineffective.

Reduce Feeding Costs with a Hard feed – What is it?

A processed feed that’s generally cereal-based and is fortified with a vitamin and mineral premix. It may or may not also contain some lower quality or least cost digestive aids. It needs to be fed alongside an appropriate amount of forage, (usually recommended as no less than 1% of bodyweight)


It provides energy and calories, plus essential nutrients in one feed.  Just add forage and you’re good to go.


Because the concentration of vitamins and minerals per kilogram is quite low, your horse must be fed the recommended daily feed rate. This is to ensure he gets adequate levels of nutrients. It also inevitably means feeding multiple kilos.

The high levels of starch/sugar and energy that the horse will be getting to satisfy his essential nutrient requirements, can often mean horses put on weight. They may become hyperactive/excitable. Worst case scenario can cause digestive issues eg stomach ulcers or ‘acid guts’ from over-consumption of starch in any one meal.

Not ideal for grain sensitive or metabolically challenged horses or ponies.

High starch meals will need to be broken down into several smaller meals per day which isn’t time effective for anyone who can only feed twice a day.

A bag won’t last very long if fed at the recommended daily feed rate, so it can be expensive. Eg a feeding rate of 3kg per day for an average 500kg horse means a bag will last just over 6 days.

Reduce Feeding Costs with a Fibregenix Feed Balancer – What is it?

Think of it as an all in one multi-supplement. In essence, a heavily fortified feed product containing fibre, protein and fatty acids, superior digestive aids and essential nutrients. It’s designed to be fed alongside forage and complements common forages’ nutrient profiles. A Fibregenix feed balancer may seem more expensive than other feed products, but being concentrated, only a small amount is fed.  This makes it versatile and far more cost-effective long term.


  • Gives your horse a healthier digestive system with specific digestive supplements.  These can help process his fibre more efficiently extracting the most nutrients out of it, and help reduce the risk of digestive upsets
  • Keeps your horse in great condition
  • Maintains that precious topline you’ve worked so hard to build
  • Promotes the shiniest and glossiest coat
  • Promotes healthy hooves
  • Provides all the essential nutrients needed on a daily basis in the most absorbable form.  We’ve made no compromise in the selection of the ingredients for Fibregenix feed balancers. Only the best has been selected irrespective of the premium price some of them carry.
  • Low feeding rate, palatable and can be fed by hand at the paddock gate or those on spell that doesn’t need an additional bucket feed.
  • Save dollars too as NO OTHER SUPPLEMENTS needed and can reduce or eliminate the need for additional hard feed.
  • Whole cereal and molasses free so Non-heating
  • Very low in starch and sugar
  • Low feeding rate and cost-effective – just 100g per 100kg of bodyweight meaning a bag will last an average 500kg horse 30 days.
  • A range of balancers are available, so there’s a solution for every horse and pony whatever the dietary dilemma.


Not calorie providers. However, the specialised digestive aids in a Fibregenix balancer supplement have been proven to double fibre digestibility and enable an improved nutrient absorption.   This improves calorie intake and is the reason why Prime Original and Platinum Pro can be fed alongside fibre to provide the sole source of energy and calories. Especially in the case of good-doers and even those in light to moderate work.

To summarise:

The simplest solutions are often the best. Fibregenix is the balancer product range that will revolutionise your horse’s diet and keep him healthy for his lifetime.

Helpful guide to cut cost | not care

Helpful guide to cut cost | not care

Owning horses – How to Cut Cost not Care

Prolonged drought conditions around Australia compounded with the recent horrific bushfires has meant that horse feed prices have soared. Owning horses is at an all-time high, leading to some tough choices. But with a little planning and tweaking, there are some ways to help reduce those spiralling costs.  The key, of course, is to ensure you’re not compromising your horse’s health and welfare. So, here is a guide to help cut cost, not care when owning horses.

  1. Agistment / location

If your horse is on agistment it’s one of your biggest expenses.  Here are a couple of ways to consider saving on your bill.

  • Review the facilities you’re paying for and check you need them all. If you’re paying for someone else to provide all or part of your horse’s day-to-day care, you could reduce costs if you did more yourself, even on a temporary basis.
  • Look for suitable grass agistment or rent a paddock, which can be even cheaper if it’s shared. Just remember you’ll need to consider if this offers suitable facilities e.g. water supply, electricity, shelter, secure fencing, storage, the amount of grazing and the quality of the grass.  Try and put in place a paddock maintenance programme which could help ensure you have adequate grazing all year round.
  1. Feeding to cut cost, not care

Are you unnecessarily over-feeding your horse? Could he do better on less feed?Two important points to note here are:

  • The vast majority of horses manage very well on a forage-based diet and a Fibregenix horse supplement balancer if necessary. (Check out our Fibregenix range) Your vet or nutritionist can advise whether your horse really needs additional feed depending on their nutritional requirements.
  • Fortnightly weigh taping and body condition scoring (fat scoring) will help you monitor your horse’s weight fluctuations and prevent obesity. Horse weigh tapes aren’t completely accurate, but they do give an indication of the weight and are useful for monitoring.  NOTE: Weigh tapes aren’t effective for donkeys so use a heart-girth measurement instead.
  1. Bedding

We have a lot more choice these days when it comes to bedding. So do your research to find the best and most affordable options for you and your horse.

  • Despite the initial outlay, rubber matting can help you get the most out of your bedding and reduce costs.
  • Muck out wet and droppings regularly to maximise your bedding and protect against ill health.
  1. Horse share

Sharing your horse with someone else can reduce costs in all areas.  However, there are two vital things to remember when considering horse share:

  • Signing an agreement and setting expectations with a sharer is vital to ensure you’re both happy.
  • Don’t agree to anything you aren’t comfortable or happy with –best to get your agreement checked by a qualified legal advisor.
  1. Working together to cut cost, not care

If you share a yard with other people, why not club together to save money and time?  Consider these cost-cutting ideas:

  • Many feed, forage and bedding suppliers offer reduced rates if they can deliver in bulk.
  • Ask your vets, farriers and other professionals if they can reduce rates for group visits
  • Save fuel by sharing transport wherever you can, or consider if it’s safe and possible to walk or cycle to the yard.
  • Share daily duties, e.g. one of you doing the morning duties and another doing the evenings. This will save time, money and fuel.

 Owning Horses and Routine preventative health care 

Prevention is always better than cure so there are some simple protocols to follow if you really want to cut cost, not care.

  • Have the fundamentals in place and it should save costs associated with preventable disease later on.
  • Discuss worming, dental checks and feeding routines with your vet to ensure you’re applying the most effective and economical regimes for your horse.  Eg Getting faecal egg counts done can save on expensive worming strategies.
  1. Farriery

  • Don’t delay trimming and keep to a regular foot hygiene regime, even if your horse is unshod.
  • Discuss shoeing options with your farrier. Depending on workload or health status, your horse may not need to have a full set of shoes. If there isn’t much wear on your horse’s shoes, your farrier can usually refit them.
  1. Resist marketing and over supplementing to cut cost, not care

Think carefully about what your horse really needs to keep him happy and healthy. Does he really need all those supplements? Is there some way you could consolidate these into one product? Take a look at a Fibregenix horse supplement balancer to see how it can save dollars in the long-term.

  • Don’t overload on unnecessary supplements, rugs or equipment. Does your horse really need 20 plus rugs or the latest ‘matchy-matchy’ set? There’s plenty of good quality second-hand equipment out there.
  • Look after your existing equipment so it lasts longer. Making sure you spend money on necessary equipment at the right time can save you money in the long term.
  1. False economies

There are some things you just shouldn’t compromise on when owning horses. Short-term savings that may affect the quality of your horse’s care and welfare will just cause you more problems in the long term.

  • Proper veterinary care: DO NOT be tempted to diagnose and treat conditions yourself, ALWAYS seek veterinary guidance if there’s a problem. Most vets can give you basic advice over the phone.  Discuss disease prevention with your vet and yard owner to ensure suitable procedures are in place.
  • Vaccinations: Lapsed vaccinations leave your horse vulnerable to disease.
  • Regular hoof care: Taking shoes off to save money without consulting your farrier or vet could lead to lameness and additional expense.
  • Worming and dental checks: These essentials can be reviewed, as outlined above – but not avoided. Getting faecal egg counts done can be an easy way to save on the cost of expensive wormers.
  • Professional services: Don’t use a cheaper, unqualified person to do a professional’s job.
  • Keep up with repairs to damaged property and equipment.  These are vital to safeguard your horse’s safety and security and avoid unnecessary vet bills.
  • Insurance: If you’re not insured against veterinary fees, you must be confident that you have enough money for an unexpected bill.  Third-party liability cover is highly advisable for all horse owners, as claims for accident or injury to people have been known to run into millions of dollars.
  1. Be realistic

Look ahead and budget effectively to meet your horse’s needs.  Remember, horse care costs can increase in the dry months when there’s no grazing and you have to start paying for hay. So be prepared for this if taking a horse on in the winter when there’s usually more green pick available. Ideally, put a little money away every month or when you can, so you’re prepared if an unforeseen circumstance arises.  Not having a contingency plan can greatly reduce the options available to you once the problem has become too overwhelming to ignore.

Feeding Horses in Drought

Feeding Horses in Drought

Feeding Horses in Drought 


Jane is based in Rockhampton, Queensland. She has a wealth of experience in feeding horses in drought conditions and feeding horses correctly.

Firstly, it’s best to explain how much a horse should eat every day.  An average horse needs 2.0-2.5% of its body weight to maintain good condition and proper gut function.  This means a 14.2hh horse will need around 8kg of food daily, and an average 16hh horse will need 10kg daily.  Usually, this comprises of forage in the form of grass. During drought however, it’s very important to feed conserved forage (hay) to replace some or all of the horse’s diet.

Hay Suitability When Feeding Horses in drought conditions

Hay comes in many different forms, and depending on local differences and availability, it varies in energy content and palatability. Generally, hays are grouped into grass hays, legume and cereal hays.

All hays have an energy value, or as it’s commonly known –  DE (Digestible Energy). This indicates how much energy an average horse can extract from a kilogram. As a rule, the older the hay, the less energy and nutrient content it has.

There’s another big consideration to take into account – the NSC level. Simply put, this is non-structural carbohydrates (starch and sugars).  Most cereal hays are high in NSC as they’re made from partially developed seed heads and unripened stems of grain-producing plants.

The following list of hays provides useful details to help you choose what will best suit your horse or pony.

1.       Rhodes Grass – the most common type of cut grass hay

Energy value approx  9MJ/kg. NSC content (starch 0.34% plus WSC 7.5% = NSC value 8.14%)

Considerations: Easy to feed to most horses. However, if coarse or musty smelling, then it’s unpalatable. It’s safe and cost-effective to be fed ad lib to all horses.

2.       Lucerne/ Grassy Lucerne – Pure legume or a mix of legume and grass

Energy value approx 8-9.3MJ/KG. NSC content oflLucerne Hay or chaff mean average of 11%. Grassy Lucerne NSC% mean average of 13.6%

Considerations: This type of hay is highly palatable so can lead to gorging. Scouring may occur in horses when feeding prime (green) lucerne. Contains a higher digestible protein content which is often incorrectly perceived as increasing energy levels. It’s best fed in addition with other grass hays, not as the sole forage replacement to pasture.  I’ve found if mixed with other hays, it increases palatability and encourages consumption of less desirable fodder products.  In some horses, lucerne has been known to cause skin photosensitivity.

3. Cereal Hays (Barley/Oat/Wheat)

Energy value of oaten approx 7MJ/kg – barley and wheat higher. NSC content is 22% on average but can be up to 33%. NSC content for barley is 12.1 to 26.3%,.  Wheat 10.5-24.8%

Considerations: Palatable with a very high NSC level which can increase energy levels in some horses.   Long-term feeding has been cited as causing dental issues and metabolic issues due to its high sugar content. It’s not suitable for laminitis prone or insulin resistant horses. Issues can occur if the product is baled too early and when it’s too green.  For example, mouldy product in storage and the possibility of mycotoxin development.

Crucially with barley hay, check that it’s been baled young and is a beardless variety. Barley barbs can get stuck in the horse’s gums and teeth causing big issues.

4.       Lab Lab/Diolichos Lab Lab

Energy value unknown but is suggested to be similar to lucerne. NSC content unknown

Considerations: Palatable. Can be a good substitute for Lucerne but is prone to being coarse and not well preserved. Stems are thick and leaf matter is lost in the drying process. It’s fed overseas as a cattle and silage crop. No negative side effects reported with use in horses, however, the coarseness of the hay could cause digestive issues.

5.       Sorghum Hay/ Forage Hay (another cereal hay)

The energy value is variable according to the species. It’s thought to be around the same as oaten ie 7MJ/Kg. NSC content unknown but it’s considered high, similar to cereal hays.

Considerations: Sorghum is palatable with a high NSC level which in some horses can increase energy levels. Its high sugar levels mean long term feeding can lead to dental issues and metabolic issues. Sorghum is not suitable for laminitis prone or insulin resistant horses. Again, manufacturing issues can be prevalent with the product being baled too early and too green.   This can lead to mould forming in storage and the possibility of mycotoxin contamination. I’ve also noted that horses’ manure can become smelly when fed Sorghum.

Sorghum – buyer beware! 

Another issue is the manufacturing process.  When cut too early, stressed in dry conditions or isn’t the correct variety, it can be high in Prussic Acid (Cyanide). This is really bad for horses – an indication of high levels of Prussic Acid is redness on the leaves and stems. Grain hays comprised of sorghum grass and Johnson grass hay should NOT be fed to horses due to the toxicity levels of these plants. Sorghum grasses include Sudan grass, Johnson grass, hybrid forage sorghums, and grain sorghums. All classes of Sudan grasses and associated hybrids have toxicity levels that make them unfit for horse feed.

Further Issues have been reported with long term use including urine infections and abortion and deformities in foals.

6.       Millet Hay (another cereal hay)

Energy value unknown. NSC content unknown

Considerations: Some varieties are not palatable so it’ll often take time to adjust to a new type of hay. The greener it is, the sweeter it is. Excessive selenium levels found in some varieties can become an issue long term. There are reports of mouth ulcers from certain varieties as well as mineral imbalances. If foxtail millet hay is fed to horses, additional calcium supplementation will be required as it is high in oxalates. These are substances that make it difficult for the horse to absorb dietary calcium.

Planning Ahead when Feeding Horses in Drought Conditions

Given the current drought conditions, some owners may be forced to use less desirable hay type to feed their horses. With soaring costs and diminished availability, good hay is far more difficult to source. Hence, the importance of planning ahead is paramount. If a change to hay type needs to be made, then this should happen over at least 2 weeks to avoid colic or gut disruption.

Other Useful Horse Feeds for Drought Conditions 

Other fibre products are useful when feeding horses in drought conditions. For example, soaked feeds can be used as part replacement for chaff and hay. These include speedibeet, micrbeet, fibrebeet, and maxisoy. Providing a source of  quality digestible fibre, they can help increase digestible energy of inferior hay products. It’s possible to feed them at quite high levels – up to 1kg dry weight a day (check the individual product for details).

Fibregenix Balancer supplements or feeding horses in drought conditions

Essential Nutrient Supply

When feeding horses in drought conditions, you must ensure your horse is getting the correct levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Hay can be deficient in several major nutrients the longer it’s stored for, so a balancer is the ideal accompaniment.  A Fibregenix balancer supplement also assists with fibre digestion helping to improve calorie intake. Ensuring your horse gets his correct daily quota of nutrients will mean a healthy, happy horse for when the rains come.

Feeding the pony

Feeding the pony

Feeding the pony

Show pony in perfect conditionThere are many factors to consider when feeding ponies,  It’s a fine balance between fitness and fatness, whilst keeping them sane and safe to ride by younger jockeys.

Native breeds such as the Shetland, Welsh Section A’s and B’s and their derivatives dominate the show rings. Due to the ‘good-doing’ nature of these hardy, reliable ponies, it’s highly important to consider their diet. Crucially, they need to be fed to satisfy both our and their needs.

Firstly, it’s vital to match the level of work that the pony is into the diet.  This helps prevent excessive weight gain and excitability and to reduce the risk of developing conditions such as laminitis. Ponies are highly prone to many issues when their diet isn’t effectively managed.

Fibre should always make up the bulk of a pony’s feeding regime. Providing greater benefit, this can be low-calorie chaff or hay which you can easily control the feeding of. Rich grazing should be restricted or eliminated if there are metabolic issues.

Restricting grass access

Some pony owners worry that grass restrictions means the correct quota of nutrients needed for good health won’t be met. However, this can be easily rectified by feeding a low calorie, diet feed balancer such as Fibregenix Lami Low-Cal. This is specifically developed to provide all the essential nutrients required daily in a low starch and low sugar formulation. It’s the perfect solution to ensure optimum health and well-being when trying to help your pony shed the pounds.

Promoting a healthy digestive system is equally important.  A diet feed balancer that incorporates a live probiotic and prebiotics into its formulation is helpful.  These can help to increase intestinal motility and to balance the gut bacteria  These digestive aids also assist in increasing the efficiency of nutrient absorption.  This allows your pony to maximize nutrient uptake from his feed and assist in stabilizing the gut PH.  When undigested starch and sugar migrate into the hindgut, fermentation can cause digestive upsets and contribute to the development of laminitis.  Small ponies are very susceptible to this disease when fed incorrectly.

Seasonal changes

A low starch and sugar diet can also prove beneficial from a behavioural perspective. Seasonal changes in weather and new grass pasture can leave ponies feeling fresh and sometimes difficult to ride and handle. Reduce or eliminate quick-release energy sources from high starch/sugar hard feeds and replace with slow-release fibre. This will mean a pony with a calmer outlook on life.  This allows them to utilise their energy intake throughout the day, rather than being overloaded with it all at once.

Another option would be to introduce a calmer into your pony’s diet such as Fibregenix Liquid Karma.  Karma is formulated with naturally calming ingredients such as magnesium and L-tryptophan.  It can help your pony keep a cool head throughout seasonal changes. Furthermore, it will keep him focused, sane and most importantly safe.

In summary, the main factors to consider when providing a diet for ponies are ensuring slow-release energy sources exceed starches and sugars.  This will create a healthy gut whilst helping to reduce the incidence of weight gain and laminitis. Additionally, feeding a low calorie, diet feed balancer such as Lami Low-Cal can be highly beneficial when you want to keep your pony in optimum health. It supports healthy, steady weight loss and keeps him happy and well throughout the summer months that lie ahead.

The Diet feed balancer for feeding ponies

Fibregenix Lami Low-Cal is a Diet feed balancer that provides all the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients with your pony needs on a daily basis. It maintains optimum health and well-being with its whole-cereal and molasses free formulation that is naturally low in starches and sugars. , Lami Low-Cal suits all types of horses and ponies.  It promotes the development and maintenance of a healthy digestive environment by incorporating a MOS and FOS prebiotic gut health supplement. Its live yeast probiotic works in synergy with Nucleotides to achieve a healthy bacterial balance within the gut.  This helps increase nutrient absorption, enabling your horse or pony to get more nutritional benefits from his diet.

The 100% natural formulation combines biotin, methionine, lysine and zinc-based hoof supplement with MSM.  These nutrients promote the growth of strong, healthy hooves.  The specifically tailored levels of zinc, copper and omega oils help achieve a glossy, gleaming coat, promoting head to hoof health!

If you’d like a diet consultation to discuss your pony’s diet, please click on the following link  DIET AUDIT BUTTON

Reviewed and updated February 2020