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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition

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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition
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I am coming concerned about the high fat diets that are being fed to horses. I'm begining to wonder if my horse would get enough glycogen for sprinting and short sprints for short durations from a high fat diet? Don't they need oats because they wouldn't get enough from the hay would they?

Where are you from? Washington

Re: glycogen

Hello Kasey,

This is an excellent question. You are correct in your concern about enough glycogen because glycogen is the horse's storage form of glucose. Fat is a more concentrated source of energy than glucose, but it cannot burn without glucose serving as the "kindling" of the fire.

So, should you feed oats? Yes and no. Oats are a far better grain than corn or barley because they are digested more efficiently in the pre-gut. However, horses fed oats will experience high blood sugar levels after a meal, a corresponding high insulin level, and then a dramatic drop of blood sugar. This can produce behavioral changes and also produce fatigue. Many horses are very sensitive to extreme highs and lows in blood sugar and this can interfere with their performance and your training program.

The good news is that forages (hays, rice bran, and beet pulp) do not produce this "sugar-high" because they are digested by the bacteria that live in the hind gut. So, the horse does get glucose from forages. However, not as much as from starch found in oats, that is digested in the foregut.

So, bottom line? Most horses do not require grain in their diet unless they are performance horses and are doing high intensity exercise. Since this is the type of activity you described, I would recommend that you offer some oats to the diet. It is best if they are rolled, to allow for more pre-gut digestion. And, do not offer more than 3 lbs of oats at any one meal, since more than that can result in hind-gut digestion (which can lead to founder and/or colic).

Hope this is helpful!

All the best,

Dr. Getty