In recent years, sugar has been getting a bad reputation. With high sugar intakes linked to obesity and diabetes in people and concerns over laminitis, EMS and obesity rising amongst horse owners, it’s not surprising that the level of sugar in our horse’s diets is being scrutinised. But is sugar really the devil’s food and how much really is in our horse’s diet?
Naturally occurring sugar is pretty much in everything your horse eats and it may surprise you to know that forage (which includes grass) accounts for the largest amount of sugar in their diet. Grass may contain up to 7.5% sugar and up to 50% water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) which is the sum of sugar plus fructan – the storage form of sugar in grass. Studies have suggested that ponies may consume up to 5% of their bodyweight in grass per day which means a 350kg pony could consume almost 9kg of sugar (WSC) per day from grass alone ….yikes!
When it comes to analysing the amount of sugar in their horse’s diets, most owners would first consider how much their chosen manufactured horse feed contributes. Compound feeds typically contain 5-7% sugar, but it’s important to remember that these are consumed in much smaller quantities. This means the recommended ration of compound feed for a 500kg horse in light work will contain approximately 150-200g of sugar and the recommended ration of balancer around 25g – a mere 2 tablespoons!
However, it’s the fibre feeds that have been grabbing the sugar headlines due to the inclusion of molasses in many products which is causing concern with some owners. Molasses is a by-product of either sugar cane or sugar beet processing and contrary to popular belief, is not pure sugar. However it is the amount of sugar in the total diet rather than the inclusion of molasses per se that we should really be concerned about. Molasses and its variants (such as molglo and molaferm) contain approximately 30-54% sugar and are typically added to feeds at 10-15%, therefore contribute just 2-4% to the finished feed. Put simply, feeds that contain molasses are not necessarily high in sugar and also, molasses free feeds are not sugar free. The important thing to remember is that we should be looking at the total amount of sugar in the diet rather than focusing too heavily on individual ingredients. However, for those who would prefer to remove molasses from their horse’s diet there are now many molasses free options such as Happy Hoof Molasses Free available.
Molassed versus non-molassed feeds
- Although Happy Hoof Molasses Free is lower in sugar (2% versus 5%), both products contribute very little sugar to the total diet.
- Both products are equally suitable for laminitics, good doers and overweight horses
- Both products offer the same nutritional benefits
- High in fibre
- Low in starch & sugar
- Low in calories
- Added vitamins & minerals to balance the diet
- Can be fed as a full or partial forage/ hay replacer
- Approved by The Laminitis Trust
- 5mg of biotin per kg to support hoof health
Happy Hoof Molasses Free simply provides an alternative option for horse owners who prefer to avoid molasses completely.
A final thought
Horses and ponies need a balanced diet and sugar like any other nutrient plays its role. However, many horses such as those who are overweight, prone to laminitis or have EMS do require a low sugar diet. To manage their sugar intake effectively, consideration needs to be given to their total diet, not just what goes in to their feed bowl and we would suggest you start by looking at their forage first.