Lite Is A Misnomer

Obviously, an overweight horse needs his calorie intake decreased and his exercise level increased. And it’s pretty easy to do that by cutting back on first his grain, then his hay and grazing, if necessary, and riding more. But what about the horse who can’t be exercised or the one who needs calories for weight but is battling a disease that requires he consume fewer carbs’ Feeding these horses can be a challenge.

Many horses need reduced calories but demand something in their feed tub. This Thoroughbred-cross mare enjoyed a summer of lush grass, resulting in a thick, cresty neck and a lot of excess fat.

In fact, the importance of feeding a specific type of calorie, or energy source, has grabbed the attention of many feed manufacturers. In response, we’re seeing the designation “lite” on many horse-feed bags. However, it’s just not enough.

Human food manufacturers must adhere to government labeling requirements to use the word “lite.” It must refer to calories, fat or both. Not so with horse feeds. In fact, we found one feed called “lite” that was actually higher in calories than most standard grain mixes.

Fiber’s not the answer either, as using a feed that’s labeled “high fiber” is no guarantee you’ll get lower calories or lower simple carbohydrates.

Many feeds that substitute beet pulp for some of the high-starch grain content have added high levels of molasses and fat. The result is a feed that’s even higher in calories and higher in simple sugar content.

Read The Labels
You need to pick your feed by knowing exactly what your horse needs. Our chart on page 11 lists specific problems that call for special feeding requirements. You’ll need to determine whether your horse needs reduced calories, or reduced simple carbohydrates (sugar, starch) or both.

Our lite feeds chart will help you determine what feed may be best. If these brands aren’t relatively available in your area, bring the chart into your feed dealer and find the feed that best matches the requirements. Call the manufacturer of feeds in your area, if your feed dealer isn’t cooperative.

Of course, these needs don’t mean you need a fancy “designer” diet to get the job done. It may be as simple as using a late-cut grass hay instead of that grass-alfalfa mixture or the early-cut grass hay. This will reduce the amount of calories coming from hay and may mean the difference between a horse that has enough hay to keep him happy and one that gets frustrated with restricted hay access.

Dried beet pulp is another option, especially for horses who “demand” something in their feed tubs, as it has fewer calories than plain oats. Plus, when you soak it before feeding, the beet pulp plumps up to a good-sized wet meal, allowing you to feed one-third less, comparing dry amounts.

Beet pulp is also safe for the insulin-resistant or EPSSM horse. Its non-forage carbohydrate (NFC) level is higher than grass hay but, since most of this is the soluble fiber pectin, it doesn’t cause blood-sugar problems. However, you must get one without added molasses. If it has molasses, you’ll need to rinse it several times with warm water before soaking to remove the molasses.


If you don’t want to mess with beet pulp, choose a vitamin-and-mineral supplemented low NFC commercial feed, which also reduces or eliminates the need for additional supplements. Hay cubes or pellets are another feed-tub option, although if you have an insulin-resistant horse check with the manufacturer to determine the NFC level. Many cubes and pellets have an NFC over 20%, which is too high. You need 16% or lower.

The NFC component of grains and hays contains the types of carbohydrates that can cause a blood sugar spike. With grass hays, NFC is primarily simple sugars and complex sugars. Grains have a high NFC, as they are virtually 100% starch. Ingredients like beet pulp and soy hulls are intermediate in their NFC level, at about 30%. However, since almost all of this is pectin, which does not cause a blood sugar rise.

Bottom Line
For the grain-intolerant or EPSSM horse in work, who need higher calories, we like McCauley Brothers Alam. But you’ll need to add 12 to 13 ounces vegetable oil per day, if you feed five pounds of the feed, to get the needed added calories.

If your horse doesn’t find high levels of oil palatable, MoorMan’s Moorglo is a good choice and only requires four to five ounces of vegetable oil for five pounds of feed.

For the slightly overweight horse, or horse on lay-up, you can get a moderate calorie restriction with no sacrifice in minerals intake by switching from a traditional fortified grain mix to a high-fiber, lower-calorie mix like Reliance 12P or Manna Senior.

With an insulin-resistant or severely overweight horse, it’s tough to beat Triple Crown Lite. Just two pounds per day of this low-calorie, low-carb feed will provide the horse with a full dose of vitamins and minerals.

For a safe complete-feed option that gives you the benefits of low NFC, plus supplemental minerals and added biotin, go with Spiller’s Seminole Happy Hoof. This chopped forage product is also a good choice for seniors that have trouble handling regular hay.

For the severely insulin-resistant and/or alfalfa-intolerant insulin-resistant horse, stick with beet pulp or substitute a hay pellet or chopped forage, such as the Dengie line, for your grain feedings.

MoorMan’s reports that their MoorGlo does not cause blood-sugar elevations when fed in the recommended amounts, making it a safe calorie booster for the insulin-resistant horse that needs to put on some weight. We suggest you start slowly, though, and allow a week or two at each feeding level before increasing this product because of its high fat content (for more information on fat, see our article on feeding high fat amounts, November 2002).

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Go Lite For Horses That Are…”
Click here to view ”Carb-Conscious’ Watch Hay, Too.”
Click here to view ”Horse Not Overweight’ ’Lite’ Isn’t Just For Fatties.”
Click here to view ”Comparison Of Lite Feeds.”
Click here to view ”Understanding Soluble Vs. Insoluble Fiber.”