It is almost impossible to imagine that these large muscular creatures we call horses get most of their energy from sugar. In my neck of the woods, I have not seen protein shakes for horses nor chicken tenders, though one of my clients does feed his horse chicken nuggets on occasion.
Sugar is served as cubes, apples, carrots, candy, all grain, and most hay and pasture. These are all sugar. Sugar needs insulin to be absorbed into the cells or it is lost. The two largest organs to use sugar are the brain followed by the skin, including the hooves.
Excess sugar is placed in holding cells including fat cells. This reserve is normal and necessary. Observations of feral horses show that horses fatten up before winter. Cattle that remains thin from summer draught stricken pastures die in the winter.
In the wild, the sugar intake ebbs and flows, but in domesticated horses, the sugar intake becomes constant. While the mechanism is still being accurately determined, it now is evident that chronic excess sugar intake can cause Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). Signs include a cresty neck and fat deposits at the shoulders and tail head. Most significant is a rise in blood insulin levels and a strong predisposition for laminitis.
An often overlooked source of sugar is the hay. Your eye cannot see the difference between high and low sugar hay. It is like looking at a juicy grapefruit or orange expecting to taste a sweet sugar filled fruit but then you are fooled by the bitter taste of a low sugar fruit. If you can’t test the hay you buy and you are worried about the sugar content, then soak the hay for 30 minutes in water before feeding it. There is hay available that is tested and bagged such as Triple Crown’s Safe Starch Hay. If you read about the sugar content of hay you will come across these terms:
NSC = Non Structural Carbohydrate = digestible sugar or starch;
SC = Structural Carbohydrate = non digestible sugar = fiber.
Speaking of low sugar, there are many grains today labeled “low starch.” Feeding low starch grain is like eating half a Twinkie expecting to lose weight. No grain, like no Twinkie, is how to lose weight.
Two final thoughts:
1) Why do we spend billions of dollars to make us thin and with what money is left over, we fatten our horses?
2) The equine body condition score (BCS) goes from 1 (near death) to 9 (obese). If 5 is ideal weight, where do you think vets make most of their income? The 7s, 8s, and 9s with laminitis, arthritis, ligament and tendon breakdowns, poor performance, etc.
The horses with a BCS of 5 and athletes at a 4 receive the glares of the neighboring horse owners. With one fist folded into their waist, the other with an extended finger points directly at your soul. Her eyes narrow and the sullen voice shreds your heart with the guilt stimulating words, “What kind of mother are you?”
Your ears become deaf to reason and logic as you scoop more grain into the feed bucket and think how you are helping your vet put her kids through college.
That is why sugar causes deafness. For those who didn’t get to the end of this it might be because sugar causes blindness too.
©2011 The Equine Practice