Sugar (ESC) and starch are digested in the horse’s stomach and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels with a corresponding increase in insulin levels. Insulin directly damages the cells that hold the pedal bone and hoof wall together and causes laminitis (McGowan 2018).

If hay is not analysed, it is impossible to know if it is suitable for insulin resistant or laminitis prone horses* or those requiring a low sugar and starch / high fibre diet.

Every batch of feetfirst™hay has undergone rigorous tests and meets our standard of less than 10% combined sugar (ESC) and starch.


Horses and ponies produce relatively small amounts of the enzyme amylase which digests starch in the stomach. If the diet is high in starch, large quantities can escape digestion in the small intestine and will travel on to the large intestine.

If undigested starch reaches the large intestine, it can alter the bacterial flora of the gut. This will change the pH of the gut, irritate the gut lining and release endotoxins into the gut. These endotoxins are absorbed into the bloodstream and can lead to laminitis (Meyer et al., 1993).

Some sources of starch are more easily digested than others because the starch molecule is very different in different types of grain. The molecular structure of the starch affects how well it is digested in the horse’s small intestine.

The factors affecting the digestibility of starch by the horse may also include:

  • Processing of starch e.g. NIS (nutritionally improved straw) pellets
  • Amount of starch intake
  • Source and timing of forage feeding
  • Individual differences between horses

By basing your horse’s diet on feetfirst™hay you are providing the correct type of starch and in small enough concentrations to support enzyme digestion in the stomach and avoid the problems associated with undigested starch reaching the large intestine.

Water Soluble Carbohydrates

Unless your forage and bagged feed is analysed for Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC), you cannot be sure how much total carbohydrate your feed contains.

Apart from sugar and starch, most of the other complex carbohydrates are digested in the hind gut of the horse and although it takes longer for their breakdown products (sugars) to reach the blood stream, they still contribute to the energy content of the diet. Most feed companies and hay merchants do not analyse for WSC and only test for sugar and starch. This lack of information adds to the stress and uncertainty of knowing how to feed your horses and ponies correctly.


Molasses are a source of high levels of invert sugars. They can contain 64% sugar by dry weight. Molasses increases the palatability of many feeds, so much so that chewing rates will significantly increase. This can have the undesired effect of rapidly raising blood insulin levels which can lead to the onset of laminitis.


All horse and ponies require the correct mineral balance in their diet. Over supplementation can be as detrimental as under supplementation.

Independent advice about suitable mineral supplementation can be obtained from Forageplus ( who provide feeding advice, forage analysis, bespoke feeding plans, feed balancers, vitamins and minerals. They can combine the nutritional and mineral analysis we provide about feetfirst™ hay with your own information about diet and management to recommend a suitable balancer or develop a bespoke feeding and supplement plan for your horse.

Supplements and Balancers

The need to feed nutritional supplements to ensure the correct balance of minerals has created a whole industry providing supplements and balancers. Most of these add more energy, often in the form of sugar and starch, to an already over loaded equine diet.

The plethora of specialist balancers and supplements being heavily advertised, at best do no harm. At worst they can add to the starch and sugar burden of an already unbalanced diet. If the basic nutritional profile of the diet is unsuitable, no balancer or supplement can correct it.

If a concentrate or bagged feed is used as well as a supplement, there is a risk of over supplementation which can be as harmful as under supplementation.