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Feed for great feet: Low starch, low NSC horse feeds

I’m going to share a few things that I learned about horse feed in this blog post.  Then I will do another one showing a bit more about what I learned about actually managing the horses hoof itself, when the horse is hoof sensitive.

New Low Starch and Low NSC feeds are becoming readily available at feed stores.   Almost all of the major brands now have something.  This is great news and will allow us to choose feeds that are safer and more healthy for our horses.  I made the comment the other day on Facebook about how many times a horse will do well in spite of his owner, rather than because of his owner.  When it comes to what we feed our horses, that is often the case especially for those of us that keep our horses barefoot.

For those of us that do manage barefoot performance horses, we need to educate ourselves better and make sure we feed correctly.  You’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat?”  Well – you’re horses hoof health is directly related to what your horse eats.

Next time you are at an endurance ride, sit back and take things in.  Watch how some of the horses stand.  Are they standing square?  Do they alternate resting diagonals?  Are they standing with their feet under them?  Do they stand on an incline if there is one?  Take a closer look at some of the hooves up close.  Do you see stress lines, flares?  Long toes?  I think to myself, how much of this is caused by the actual hoof care itself (trimming/shoeing/thrush prevention, etc.) and how much of this can be attributed to what the horse is fed?  A combination of both, perhaps?

Most of us that work our horses consistently have horses that are able to process the feeds we give them, even if these feeds aren’t even close to optimum.  In spite of us!  However, there are a few horses that are more sensitive and need a lot more careful management.  Or, as with most things ‘horse’ – we encounter curves and bumps in the road and at one time or another need to be a lot more careful with our horse’s feed than we do the rest of the time.

I know this how?  Because for several years I kept Chief barefoot and completed thousands of miles of endurance (with boots) or training rides on him without having shoes nailed to his feet.  He did great.  I had always been careful to control the amount of molasses and sugars in his feed because he was Super Type A and it would jazz him up unnecessarily.  Then Chief got that eyelid injury last year which led one thing to another and he ended up with sensitive hooves from a mild laminitis episode.  I knew it would take awhile for his hooves to grow out and until they did he would not have the same healthy feet he had always had.

Along the way I learned a lot.  So I guess I should look at the bright side, even though I wish I hadn’t had to learn what I did because my horse was having a problem.  I had already learned from several years of riding multiple horses barefoot that what I fed them could be directly correlated to how they felt on the trail when being ridden barefoot.  Subtle, subtle, subtle stuff….the kind of thing you would probably not notice if you stayed on good footing entirely, or were using hoof boots.

Now that I had experienced the whole feed v. hoof sensitivity issue in a more obvious way, it was easy to see that so many other horses are also encountering some of these same issues related to their feed and management.  This is something that is easy to fix, so we can do what is best and our horses will thrive because of it – “because of us”, rather than in spite of us.

It pays to ALWAYS read the labels on your horses feed.   If molasses, oats, corn, or other high NSC (Non structural Carbohydrates) value ingredients are listed in the first few ingredients, your feed will also have a very high NSC value.  I had Susan Garlinghouse, DVM (an equine nutritionist) look at the feed labels of the LMF feeds and she said it was a really good formulation.

Grass hay, beet pulp, rice bran and low NSC grains are much more appropriate for horses than some of the stuff often used.   Most healthy horses should not get a diet higher then 20% NSC.   Most sweet feeds have really high NSC values.  Omolene 200 for example, is more than 40%!

Here are some average NSC values.  Visit the Dairy One website to look up more, or to get a kit sent so that you can test your own horse feed.

Alfalfa Cubes: 10.2% NSC
Alfalfa Pellets: 9.3% NSC
Barley: 61.7% NSC
Beet Pulp: 12.3% NSC
Corn: 73.3% NSC
Oats: 54.1% NSC
Rice Bran: 21.2% NSC
Soybean Hulls: 6.3% NSC
Soybean Meal: 16.2% NSC
Wheat Middlings: 32.0% NSC
Wheat Bran: 31.1% NSC

If you are at a ride and mixing together beet pulp and a couple of pounds of Omolene for example, it’s not going to be an issue the same way it would be if you were to feed your horse four pounds of Omolene by itself at home to a horse that is not working.  So remember to keep that in mind when looking at some of this stuff.  Horses that are being worked regularly can handle things better than one that isn’t in regular work.  Yet, some of us have horses that while being worked regularly need more careful management of their feed.  If a horse is already IR or laminitic, then some of these feeds are still going to be too much for him.  Check some of the articles on safergrass.org.

Below I have posted information and links to a couple of brands of the low starch/low carb feeds that I have personally used on my own horses.  All of  my horses have liked these feeds.  It took about three weeks of feeding these kinds of feeds to Chief and guess what – his cresty neck diminished.  His hoof sensitivity disappeared too.  I think the addition of some minor trimming tweaks also helped, and I will post about that later with photos.  It’s nice to have my horse back – solid on his feet again!

LMF Stage 1

  • Low non-structural carbohydrate formula
  • No molasses
  • No grain
  • Complete mineral/vitamin fortification
  • Chelated trace minerals for superior absorption
  • High levels of antioxidants
  • Non-Structural Carbohydrate 11% maximum
  • LMF Low-Carb “Stage 1” is designed for horses that may be sensitive to NSC content of the diet. These are horses that are becoming overweight, or horses that do not do well on traditional grain based equine diets. This product will allow people with easy keeper horses a safer alternative to provide necessary vitamins and minerals without all the sugar and starch found in grain. Stage 1 feeds at a rate of 0.5 to 1% of ideal body weight daily along with low NSC hay, salt and fresh clean water.

LMF Complete

  • Low non-structural carbohydrate formula
  • No molasses
  • No grain
  • Well balanced for essential fiber, protein, energy, primary, trace mineral, and vitamin intake
  • Chelated trace minerals for superior absorption
  • High levels of antioxidants
  • Non-Structural Carbohydrate 11% maximum
  • LMF Low-Carb “Complete” is formulated for horses that have been diagnosed with carbohydrate related disease. This product will be very useful to those people who cannot find low carb hay for horses with insulin resistance and /or laminitis. Low-Carb “Complete” feeds at a rate of 1.25 to 2% of ideal body weight daily along with salt and fresh clean water. Laboratory (Dairy One) tests indicate that these feeds each have a NSC content of 10% or less (As-Fed). We intend to keep both these products at NSC levels below the average found in grass hay. For more information, go to www.lmffeeds.com.In addition, these feeds are both completely fortified with vitamins and minerals including magnesium, zinc, copper and high levels of the antioxidants selenium and vitamin E. Ingredients include: native and non-native forages (each tested), soybean seed coats, and beet pulp. These feeds are available iin California, Nevada, Arizona , Oregon, Washington , Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado. We certainly hope these feeds will help the many horses suffering from carbohydrate related problems, but caution that a proper diagnosis is key in treating disease. For an LMF Dealer call LMF Feeds at 800-344-0563 or email at lmffeeds@webtrak.com
  • Here is a chart showing the contents of the Triple Crown line of feeds. I have used their Safe Choice Forage and again – the horses really liked it!  It is especially Chief’s favorite.  I like that this chart shows all  of the information that it does.  I wish all of the feed dealers had charts like this on their website.

    Carbohydrate Values of Triple Crown Horse Feeds
    Horse Feed and Form
    + ESC
    Triple Crown 10% Performance Textured
    Triple Crown 14% Performance Textured
    Triple Crown Complete Textured
    Triple Crown Senior Textured
    Triple Crown Growth Textured
    Triple Crown Low Starch Pelleted
    Triple Crown Lite Pelleted
    Triple Crown 12% Supplement Pelleted
    Triple Crown 30% Supplement Pelleted
    Triple Crown Safe Starch Forage Chopped
    Triple Crown Grass Forage Chopped
    Triple Crown Alfalfa Forage Chopped
    Triple Crown Rice Bran Extruded

    From the Natural Barefoot Hoof Trimming website:

    Recent research determined excess sugar in the blood stream raises insulin levels, which diverts the glucose in the blood stream away from the hooves.    Healthy hoof laminea require absorbing an incredible amount of glucose from the blood supply to remain healthy, therefore diverting it causes instant laminea die off, inflammation, and laminitis.    Feeding excess sugars on a regular basis will cause a perpetually weak hoof attachment that all the proper trimming in the world can’t fix.      A sudden sugar spike can trigger a laminitis or founder attack.   Worse yet, a horse with any degree of insulin resistance will be much more susceptible to founder if fed any sugar at all in his diet.   Feeding excess sweet feeds and grass throughout a horse’s life will increase the odds of the horse developing IR, which is similar to human diabetes.

    7 comments to Feed for great feet: Low starch, low NSC horse feeds

    • Krissa Payne

      Hi Karen. I am an endurance rider…well, I try to be anyways, lol. I have been doing my horses feet now for about a year and loving it. What I don’t understand is this: Why is it that most barefoot trimmers are pushing whole oats and beat pulp and nothing more? I just listened to Dr. Dan Moore (naturalhorsevet.com) and he says that all feed companies are bad, including the low starch feeds, causing our horses to be unhealthy. I can hook you up with a link to his audio interview if you’d like. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on this. It really is soooo confusing on who to believe and what the right thing to do for your horse is.

      Thanks so much.


    • Hi Krissa – I tend to take my equine nutrition advice from veterinarians who are impartial/not biased, and that aren’t trying to sell something.

      As far as my own horses go – oats is high enough in NSC that I would consider it something that I would only feed at an actual endurance ride once my horse is working. Check Dairy One – for the last ten years the average NSC content of oats is 48.68%. My horses don’t need that when they aren’t competing. When they are competing they prefer Omolene 200 (also mix it w/ beet pulp), so I’m going to keep giving them that rather than oats and beet pulp. I have done both over the years and know that what counts is getting the horse to eat (while on an endurance ride).

      Be careful of beet pulp too – make sure you rinse it. I have friends that sent samples in for testing that came back as high as 26% sugar. Beet pulp can be a useful feed, but only when used correctly and with the proper knowledge. A lot of horse owners probably aren’t aware of how much the sugar content of “molasses free beet pulp” can vary. But it does–considerably.

      I see the new formulations of NSC feeds as something that will help a lot of horses. Horse owners are going to keep going to their feed stores and purchasing what is available there. Now they have a choice over some of the previously formulated complete or sweet feeds and grains that were a LOT less healthy for their horses. Karen

    • Betsy Melancon

      Hi Karen,
      Another interesting post as usual. Do you feed grass hay in addition to the Omolene and beet pulp or just that? What is the dry amount of beet pulp shreds you would use per feeding? Does that change with the amount of work your horse is doing too?

    • Marge

      When feeding oats and beet pulp you need to balance this with a good vitamin/mineral mix.

      You will also read various comments regarding crimped oats versus whole oats.

    • Hi Betsy: Here is a post I did explaining in more detail what I feed: http://enduranceridestuff.com/blog/2009/07/barefoot-transitioning-endurance-rider-feeds-manages-horses/ I only feed the Omolene at actual endurance ride. They’ll get some beet pulp so I can put salt in it for them ahead of traveling, but they don’t get it on a regular basis. I use pellets and just enough once it’s plumped up to fill about half of one of the smaller buckets. They keep their weight and do well between rides on hay and their horseguard vitamin (and vit e caps).

    • Jan Mutchler

      Karen, thank you for providing such great info. I was in a feedstore recently (Idaho) and happened to meet a vendor for LMF feeds. He said the feed they sell in the “pink sack” is specifically targeted towards the female horse owners…women who can only ride their horse a couple times a week. That feed is formulated to be lower in NSC to help prevent a more hyper horse. This is the first time I had ever heard of a horse feed targeted towards women horse owners. Also, the vet who has formulated these feeds used to be a research vet at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) and formulated some of their products until he decided to start his own company here in Idaho.

    • Ok now I’m hearing that we need to look for non GMO, no soy, no corn feed.

      Can some one help?

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