Energy Sources for the Horse

Energy is the most basic component of ensuring maximum health and performance in all animals. Adequate energy, measured in the form of kilocalories, is needed not only to maintain body weight, but also to support overall health, performance, breeding and growth. To meet these needs, energy should be provided from three primary sources.

  1. Starches – Starch is a carbohydrate commonly provided to the horse through oats, corn or barley. After consumption, starches are broken down into glucose. Glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream for use or stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen.
  1. Fats – Dietary fat is energy dense, providing 2.25 times more calories than starch. Fats are often provided to the horse through vegetable oils or stabilized rice bran. The digestion of fat does not increase blood sugar like the digestion of starches, which may help prevent behavioral problems associated with carbohydrate-rich diets.
  1. Fibers – Fiber is provided to the horse through forage. Fiber is broken down in the hindgut into volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which can be used directly for energy or be converted into glucose or fat. While the energy content of fiber is generally less than that of starch, some “super fibers” such as beet pulp contain nearly as much energy as oats.

Many commercial grains combine starches, fats and fibers to meet the digestible energy requirement of the horse. Excess protein in the diet may also be used as energy, however, it is a very inefficient source of energy compared to those listed above and cannot be stored for future use. If a decreasing body condition score or poor performance indicates the horse requires additional energy, we recommend gradually increasing the amount of fat and fiber in the diet. Increases in starch may result in undigested starch escaping the stomach and being fermented in the hindgut, which can cause digestive upset and hindgut acidosis. We also recommend adding a daily Vitalize® supplement with Amaferm®, such as Vitalize Digest More® PLUS or Vitalize High Performance. Amaferm, a proprietary prebiotic, is research-proven in horses to nearly double VFA production, meaning more safe, cool energy from forage!