Sugar is necessary for the brain, organs and muscles to function, for performance and for overall health. Every horse needs sugar. Sugar provides muscles with the energy they need to work properly. No sugar- no power.
All feeds contain sugar. Even roughage naturally contains sugar. Sugars, just like starch, are carbohydrates and both are absorbed by the body as glucose. Body tissue, such as muscle, either turns glucose into energy or turns it into glycogen or fat so as to store energy. Energy produced can be used by the body immediately and energy stored can be used at a later date.
A horse’s workload determines the amount of sugar and starch it requires. Horses that only exert themselves minimally tend to obtain enough energy from the sugars and starch in the roughage they eat, as their energy requirements are not as high as those of elite-level competition horses.
The most important rule of thumb here is to not feed your horse more energy than it consumes.
Most competition horses can safely consume up to a certain amount of sugar and starch. They even need this source of energy. Studies have shown that the small intestine can easily and safely digest 1-2 g per kg of body weight and per feed. It’s for this reason we illustrate this in every feed on our website
To put these numbers in context, this means that a healthy horse weighing 600 kg should receive a maximum of 1.2 kg of sugar and starch per feed. A further important point is that a horse can absorb a relatively high amount of nutrients without experiencing any problems. However, the digestive system needs ti me to do its work; so give the small intestine the time it needs to absorb all nutrients, including sugars and starch, in a healthy manner. This can be achieved by repeatedly feeding smaller portions throughout the day.
Although this will not be necessary for a healthy horse, not every horse can process sugar properly. Horses with metabolic disorders such as insulin dysregulation, obesity or PPID (Cushing’s) benefit from feeds that are low in sugars and starch. Does your horse have a metabolic disorder or are you afraid it might? Always ask your vet or nutrition consultant for advice.