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Why Low Sugar, Low Starch Hay Matters

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

I know I sound like a broken record around here. Feed your horses low sugar low starch hay because that is what they have evolved over thousands of years to eat. Low sugar, low starch hay, blah, blah, blah.

Even though I share this all the time I consistently see people saying they don’t need to feed their horses and ponies low sugar, low starch hay. But then I see how FAT their horses and ponies are.

Equines in general have evolved over thousands of years to thrive while foraging in the high plains, the natural grasses, bushes, plants, etc.


Do you see thick lush green grass here? No. Horses would need to forage and dig and browse through here.

Then we humans came along and needed our small acreages to produce more.

More grass, more hay, more, more, more. So we fertilize, we spray and kill the weeds, we plant more high powered grasses. Then we turn our horses out on that grass 24/7 because horses are grazers after all and need to eat 24/7.

Ländliche Idylle, Panorama mit weiten grünen Wiesen und blauem Himmel

BUT they are not equipped to deal with the richness of the grass we are giving them. Especially ponies and easy keepers. Of course there will always be the exceptions to the rules. Those hard keepers that can eat all the grass all the time and still need to put on a bit of weight. Just ask people with those types of horses… they are not necessarily easier to manage than the easy keepers.

The thriftier horses, the metabolic horses, the native type horses need us to help them. They need us to give them access to LOW SUGAR, LOW STARCH hay 24/7 and supplement with some grass/alfalfa mix hay for protein for older and younger horses. Supplement with vitamins and minerals to help them balance the forage we are offering. No horse should be given rich hay 24/7. It will catch up to them eventually.

A fat, shiny horses does not equal a healthy horse.

If they are not getting the exercise to burn off the calories you are feeding then you need to back off the calories. And sugar and starch ARE added calories.

HERE is an article on the SafeGrass website. It’s very sciency, but ends with a very interesting paragraph:

Where I live, very sunny, and extremely dry, hay cures in a couple days, and growers bale only in the wee hours of the night in hopes of getting some dew to keep the leaves on the hay. Consequently the San Luis Valley of Colorado is well known for producing some of the highest quality dairy hay in the USA. We also have more than our fair share of laminitis and colic. An Amish horse trainer who recently moved here from Minnesota told me he’snever encountered so much laminitis since he has lived here. After a year, they also started seeing EPSM in their draft horses. Data from research trials conducted at Rocky Mountain Research & Consulting, Inc., in conjunction with USDA showed that oat hay maturing in the fall at my facility contained levels of total carbs and fructan specifically that are surprisingly high, even when extremely mature. I have tested improved grasses from the research plots here that are up to 39% NSC dry matter! Surely destiny has a hand in putting me and my insulin resistant ponies in the Founder Fodder Capital of the world.

My friend Molly has a beautiful little 32″ miniature horse mare, Goldie. Last winter Molly was feeding a grass/alfalfa mix hay, from a hay supplier she has used for years. When he delivered her a second (or third) batch of hay in the middle of the winter, he said to be a little careful because it seemed to be a bit richer. But horses are meant to graze 24/7 and Molly knew that so was feeding the hay in slow feed nets or feeders so they would have hay 24/7. She has 2 minis, one was a stallion at the time and an older Arab gelding who has a bit of a hard time keeping weight on in the winter time. The Arab and the stallion seemed to do alright, but Goldie packed on the pounds and ended up being about 100 pounds over weight and on the edge of foundering. She was laminitic and very sore footed. This was the end of January.

Molly immediately took Goldie off the alfalfa grass mix hay and bought a couple of low sugar low starch grass hay bales. She added in some HEIRO to help Goldie manage the extra glucose she was obviously struggling with. She started her on 1/4 cup of Crypto Aero Wholefoods.

By the beginning of May Goldie was slim and sleek and ready to do an 8 mile drive with a local driving group. Over Memorial Weekend Goldie drove 15.2 miles with that same group, in mountainous terrain. Molly also noticed that Goldie was acting like the young mare that she is, playing and being very active. Something that she had not done when eating the richer hay. She has energy in a good way. It’s not jittery, wild energy, but calm and focused energy.


Goldie at the first group drive. She is so slim and in great shape here!! No one would ever believe that just 3 months before this she was 100 pounds overweight!


Goldie after our 15.2 mile drive. On this day we did a 6 mile drive before we headed home. So she had driven 21 miles total for the weekend!

This just goes to show that feeding a horse properly, balancing it’s vitamins and minerals as best you can and making sure their hay is low sugar low starch hay makes a HUGE difference to the health of the animal.

Another great example is Mikey. He was quite a bit overweight, for his build, when he came here a week ago. I feed low sugar, low starch hay, in a slow feed net, pretty much 24/7. The first day he was here he did not eat and he did not let any of the other horses or drink, so we need to take that into account. But skipping meals does not always mean a horse will lose weight!


Left is the before photo taken on 6/24/18. Photo on the right is the after, taken today 6/30/18. 6 days on a low sugar low starch diet and a bit of added exercise. He is just as shiny it was just not such a sunny time when we took the after photo. You can see that his shoulders are smaller and he doesn’t have the big fat pads on his butt. He still has a little bit to lose, but will slim up and muscle up when we start driving!

I have him on 1/4 cup of Crypto Aero Wholefoods, 1/2 a scoop of California Trace, 1/2 a scoop of Remission, and 1/2 a teaspoon of magnesium once a day. He is in his own area while everyone gets acquainted, and he is spending some time every day pacing. He is no longer pacing all day, but he does walk quite a bit. This is actually mimicking life on the track. So pair the proper diet with exercise and you get a pony that has already lost quite a bit of weight. He had hard adipose type fat on his shoulders, neck and butt, they are all gone. His neck is soft again and the “swollenness” has gone away. He is feeling better and has settled down emotionally and physically.


Left is the before photo taken 6/24/18 and Right is the after taken today, 6/30/18.

I am really looking forward to getting Mikey in cart, but he needs a little ground work and some body work done first. He is very stiff in his hind end. I wouldn’t want him to try pulling a cart if he isn’t feeling his best. To have him pull incorrectly to try to balance out a soreness will only hurt another part of his body. So we will go slow and steady!

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