Would horses eat sugar in the wild?
The horse is an herbivore and has evolved to eat a high fibre diet consisting of a variety of vegetation, eating for 16-18 hours a day. However at certain times of the year this vegetation would contain high levels of sugar – as sucrose – as well as the fibre essential for the horse’s gut health. As a result of evolution, the horse’s digestive system is designed to be able to cope with sugar as a component of feed as long as it is broken down and digested in the small intestine. This happens when the intakes of sugar are little and often, i.e. trickle fed, for example, when the horse is grazing over a 16 – 18 hour period.
Can we avoid sugar for our horses?
In a word NO! As grass should be the largest proportion of most equine’s diets, then avoiding sugar completely is nigh on impossible. Horses are designed to be able to digest sugar and sugar free feeds will be virtually impossible to find as most of the raw materials are plant based, these will all contain some level of natural sugar.
Is this a problem for our horses?
In healthy, exercised horses, sugar should not cause a problem, however there are undoubtedly some horses and ponies that do need a low sugar (not sugar free) diet, particularly those prone to laminitis or suffering from Cushing’s disease or EMS.
For those equines who do require a low sugar diet, it is even more important to ensure they receive their vitamins and minerals to provide a balanced diet, without the unnecessary extra calories that a concentrate feed may provide.
More information on Sugar below…