The grazing season is in full swing and for many horses this means whole days on grass. For horses sensitive to sugars, this can sometimes be a challenge. After all, how can you make sure your horse doesn’t react so strongly to sugars? How can you get ahead of itching, laminitis and other sugar-related ailments? In this blog, we would like to explain how you can support your horse’s sugar metabolism.
Living sugar-free is impossible
In horse-land, people are often very panicky about sugar, but it is good to realise that your horse is getting sugars throughout the day. On average, hay contains about 10% sugar, so a horse that eats 10 kg of hay a day is already consuming a kilo of sugar a day. The amount of sugar in grass can be lower, but also many times higher. That depends very much on the weather and also on the type of grass you have. However, horses often eat more of grass, so there is a chance that they get proportionally more sugar from grass than from hay.
But it is therefore impossible to offer your horse a sugar-free life. You can, however, try to keep sugar levels as low as possible in hay and let your horse graze at responsible times.
Many horses sensitive to excessive sugars
Unfortunately, many horses are sensitive to sugars, and not just the more austere breeds. Warmblood horses too are often sensitive to sugars. A sensitivity to sugars doesn’t just manifest itself in obesity, it causes fatigue, itching, risk of laminitis or stiff muscles. But disturbed digestion and stress complaints can also be related to a disturbed sugar metabolism. So don’t focus on the breed, but look at the individual and at the symptoms!
Problems with the sugar metabolism often only arise from around 4-5 years of age, before that age horses can process sugars better. Possibly because they are still full in growth, play more and consume sugars more. But an excess of sugar in that period can be the trigger to become sensitive to sugars and develop complaints later on.
Don’t start grazing too early!
Around April, horse owners and horses get restless as they see the grass growing and everything coming into bloom. But April/May are periods when the grass is growing fast, but there are also still fresh nights. So the time of year when there are a lot of sugars in the grass. Therefore, choose rather to start the grazing season later. Let the grass grow well first, then it becomes richer in fibre and the sugars are generally lower (and better distributed throughout the plant).
Is your horse also out in the field in winter? If so, choose to stop grazing from mid-March to mid-June. Then the land can recover, the grass can grow well and you don’t run the risk of the horses eating the short (hugely sugar-rich) growing grass straight away.
Build up grazing gently!
Building up grazing is hugely important for digestion. This is because the digestion of fresh grass requires different micro-organisms. There should thus be a gradual transition from hay to grass. Do not send your horse out to graze on an empty stomach, but make sure it has eaten a good portion of hay beforehand.
In addition, build up the grazing time gradually. Start with an hour and after a few days add an hour etc. And for very sensitive horses this is even too long and you should start with 15 minutes and after a week only half an hour. This is very horse-dependent. But do not start grazing for hours on end. This disturbs the entire digestive system, produces gas and can cause all kinds of colic.
Support with nettle and triphala
Horses that are sensitive to sugars often need supplement support during the summer period. There are supplements that can help balance sugar levels, reducing sugar spikes, improving sugar disposal and reducing fat storage. Triphala is one such herb, it has a hugely beneficial effect on sugar metabolism and overall metabolism. Triphala can also be used well in overweight horses as it helps with weight loss.
Horses sensitive to sugars also tend to have more inflammatory reactions and waste products in the body. Liquid nettle is then very suitable as it purifies the blood and supports the intestinal flora. Regular treatment with liquid nettle is therefore highly recommended for sugar-sensitive horses.