by Dr. med. vet. Malin Olson
A common description of energy is the “ability to bring a system to perform work”. A horse is built out of many systems, e.g. nervous system, musculoskeletal system, reproductive system. These systems perform different types of work, e.g. thinking, moving or reproducing. The energy, which is used, comes from the feed.
Concentrated feed (oat, barley, wheat, maize, rice, carob bean) contains a high amount of starch. Starch breaksdown into sugar and is the only energy source of the brain and the preferred energy source of the white muscles (explosive muscles).
Roughage (grass, hay, haylage, herbs) contains a high amount of cellulose. The microbes in the hindgut of the horse turn cellulose into volatile fatty acids. These fatty acids are the most efficient energy source for the red muscles (strength and endurance).
Volatile fatty acids as well as sugar can be stored as glycogen in the muscles or as fat in the adipose tissue.
Protein can be used as an energy source but there is a downside. The nitrogen in protein is turned into ammoniac. Ammoniac is toxic and needs to be transformed into urea and excreted with the urine. This process is stressful for the horse.
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