If your horse or pony is fractious, what do you do? You’re tired of being jogged round the lanes, your horse leaping at plastic bags in the hedgerows or exploding in the dressage arena and then not holding his condition well.
The chances are you’ll buy a non-heating mix, but you know you can’t feed too much of it or it will make him worse, which means he won’t have enough energy to do the work you want him to do. So, you buy a calming supplement and maybe a stronger bit.
But all this is treating the symptoms, not the cause. It could be the way you ride, your horse might be in pain or frightened or it could just be down to his temperament.
However, if diet is to blame, there are two possible reasons why, and it would be a safe betto say they are both to do with starch.
Starch is found in cereals. So, when you feed more oats, or high cereal compound feeds, you are adding more starch to the diet.
More starch means more breakdown of starch to glucose in the small intestine and a rapid rush of energy to the horse – the first starch effect or the “fizz factor”.
Second, if you overload the ability of the small intestine to digest the starch by feeding too much, it lands in the large intestine, where it is not welcome. The micro-organisms there cannot stand starch, and a digestive war breaks out.
A small overload leads to discomfort, a major overspill causes downright pain, and then you wonder why your horse becomes fractious on a high starch diet and will not settle.
If you are trying to keep control, the answer is to shift away from starch, and this means moving away from cereal-based diets. One way to do this is to feed cubes. By its nature, even a non-heating mix has to have barley and maize in it. Higher energy mixes have oats, and both types have peas added, which also contain starch. Cubes contain less cereal and therefore less starch.