Energy sources used in the formulation of horse feeds
Written by Nia O’Malley
There are various different energy sources used in the formulations of feeds, some are fast release ‘buzzy’ types of energy sources eg cereal grains, and some are slow release ‘calm’ types of energy sources eg fibers and oils. And even within those groupings energy provided can vary eg oats differs to barley, barley differs to maize, and with fibers, beet pulp, alfalfa meal and soybean hulls provide excellent energy sources, whereas fiber sources such as oat hulls and straw do very little. All horses are different, and some can respond very differently to others to the energy source provided in the diet. Look at the ingredient listing on the feed label and chose a feed that might suit your horse.
Sugar is a necessary fuel source for the fast twitch explosive type muscles. A diet too low in sugar and starch can leave the horse with depleted fuel reserves for these types of muscles and performance can be affected. Sugar and starches get a lot of bad press, but horses actually have a high tolerance for sugar and starch. In nature they can consume copious amounts, but this is gradually consumed over 24 hours. The issue with starch is not necessarily the amount of starch we’re feeding but in how we’re feeding it. If feeding a cereal rich feed always ensure the cereal grains are cooked, this in effect ‘predigests’ the grain for the horse, helping with overall digestion and helping reduce the occurrence of starch related issues. Always ensure there are a variety of cereal grains in the formulation, all grains have different digestive rates, by spreading the release of the sugars can help minimize upsets occurring. And most importantly never feed a cereal based meal in large amounts, if you need to feed your horse a lot make sure to split up feeds and spread them out over the course of the day.
Fiber is often over-looked as an energy source in the horse’s diet and is normally associated with gut health, being a feed filler, helping keep the horse bulked up, giving the horse something to chew on, etc. But some fibers are excellent energy sources and can provide as much energy as any cereal grain. These fibers are actually called ‘super fibers’ because of the amount of energy they can provide, and should not be mistaken with common industry by-products and feed fillers such as oat feed, oat hulls, nutritionally enhanced straw, etc. These do little in providing energy to the horse’s diet.
The difference in sugars and starches is in how the energy is provided, as in the length of time it takes to break down and release the valuable calories and have them available for use. With cereal this process is quite quick, and the sugars are released in a matter of hours. For fibers and oils this process is quite lengthy and it takes much much longer. For this reason, we class sugars and starches as ‘fast release’, and fibers and oils as ‘slow release’ energy sources.
But being slow release or fast release does not mean one is less in energy than the other, both processes provide similar energy levels, the question is which suits your horse. Some horses need a starch rich cereal based diet, some need a fiber rich oil based diet, and some do very well on a mixture of both. For horses that are starch sensitive this slow release of energy can give a more focused performance and is ideal for horses that tend to be too hot or excitable. And for some horses with sensitive digestive tracts or predisposed to muscle issues starch rich cereal based diets should be avoided and fiber rich oil based diets used instead.
Switching from Horse Care 10 Pellets to Horse Care 14 Pellets provides very little difference in the diet nutritionally but the starch source in Horse Care 14 Pellets is sourced from oats and barley, whereas the starch source in Horse Care 10 is from barley and maize. This simple difference in starch source could be enough to cause a change in the horse’s energy levels.
Or maybe its simply that the energy sources you are feeding do not suit your horse. If you are feeding a fibre and oil based pellet, maybe it’s the case that you need to switch out completely to a cereal based muesli? Yes, the fibre/oil based pellet is far healthier for your horse but for some horses this diet really does not suit them and they do better with a starch rich cereal based diet.
Even switching out some of the daily feed for a feed formulated with different energy sources. An example would be, for a horse predominantly on Horse Care 10 Pellets, switch out a quarter scoop/day of Horse Care 10 for a cereal based competition feed, eg Competition 12 Mix, and go more if you need to. In this way the bulk of the diet is a healthy high fibre high oil feed, with some cereal based feed added in for extra ‘peppy’ energy. The beauty about this diet is that you can vary the quantity of cereal based feed depending on the energy levels you want, eg increase it as the week progresses and you move closer to the bigger classes, reduce it as the weeks showing wraps up and you are going in to a day or two of easy work.