As temperatures begin to dip, Dr. Juliet Getty, equine nutrition specialist, reminds you to help your horse make the transition to winter feeding in good shape—and that means you being informed about the sugar and starch that lurk in your fall pasture growth.
If you have horses that are overweight, insulin resistant, or suffer from equine Cushing’s disease, you know about keeping them off of spring grasses. The non-structural carbohydrate (NSC–sugars, starch, and fructans) content is too high for free-choice pasture grazing to be safe, increasing the risk for laminitis. But don’t think you’re out of the woods once spring is over. True, summer is safer, but as early fall nights cool down below 40 degrees F for the majority of the night, the dangerous carbohydrates once again increase.

Grass accumulates NSC as it is exposed to sunlight. The levels reach a peak in the late afternoon. During the dark hours, the grass uses this fuel for itself, and by morning, the levels are at their lowest. But cold nights prevent grass from using as much NSC, resulting in a higher NSC concentration remaining during the day.

Don’t be fooled by the brown grass you see in the late fall. Spread it apart and you’ll likely see some green at the base, which is high in sugar and starch. If it hasn’t rained in a while, your grass will look dried out, but be careful – dry grass can actually have a higher NSC percentage than long, lush-looking grass.

Testing your pasture every couple of weeks may be a good option this time of year, especially if your horse is otherwise at high risk for laminitis. Equi-Analytical Labs offers their economical “Fast Track” test that provides WSC (simple sugars and fructans), ESC (simple sugars), and starch levels. Though just a snapshot of what is happening to the grass at that moment in time, consistent testing will provide a trend that may offer some peace of mind in determining when the grass has gone dormant for the winter.

Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided attribution is given to Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. No editorial changes may be made without her permission. Dr. Getty appreciates being notified of any publication.

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices. Dr. Getty’s goal is to empower the horseperson with the confidence and knowledge to provide the best nutrition for his or her horse’s needs.

Dr. Getty’s fundamental resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com — buy it there and have it inscribed by the author, or get it at Amazon (www.Amazon.com) or other online retail bookstores. The seven individual volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered “Spotlight on Equine Nutrition” series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts for equestrians.

Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Shop with no shipping charges for supplements, feeders, and other equine-related items at her online store. Reach Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.