The role of starch in feeding event horses

  • Starch is often blamed for causing problems such as laminitis and colic, but while the incorrect feeding of starch can result in these types of complications, techniques such as micronisation and extrusion have made feeding starch safer and more effective than it was 50 years ago.

    These techniques, which have been developed by feeding manufacturers, have aided the feeding of event horses, and others working at high speeds over prolonged periods, because the demands placed on their bodies give starch a vital role in their diet.

    When working at lower speeds the horse works “aerobically” and can utilise fat as an energy source. However, when working at higher speeds such as a strong canter or during strenuous activity such as jumping, the horse will begin to work “anaerobically” and relies heavily on glycogen stored in the muscles to provide a quick releasing energy boost.

    The horse is only able to store a limited amount of glycogen in the muscles and therefore cannot sustain anaerobic work for long periods of time. Carbohydrates, such as starch, are essential to form and replenish muscle glycogen, making starch a vital part of the busy event horse’s diet.

    Tips for feeding starch

    • Remember starch is energy and any energy fed in excess to requirements will exaggerate your horse’s natural character, so an excitable thoroughbred will become more excitable and a laid-back cob will become even lazier
    • Feeding micronised or extruded cereals reduces the risk of undigested starch reaching the hind-gut where it can cause problems such as colic
    • Keep meal sizes small to ensure maximum digestion. The horse’s stomach is incredibly small for such a large animal and meal sizes should not exceed 2.5kg of a starch-based feed for a 500kg horse
    • Encourage your horse to chew his food properly by feeding chaff and place some large smooth bricks in his manger. Chewing is the first part of the digestion process and is essential for starch to be digested successfully
    • Feeding forage before a starch-based meal helps to slow down the rate of passage through the stomach and small intestine. This increases the time enzymes in the small intestine have to breakdown the starch improving the digestion rate

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