The Effect of Diet on Insulin Sensitivity in Horses

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The expression you are what you eat is well known, but many horse owners forget that it is as true for horses as for people. Whilst we all want to give our equines the best feed possible, improve their condition, hoof health and coat shine, not to mention their performance, sometimes we go too far

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by cells that are present within the pancreas. The action of insulin in the body is widespread, targeting the metabolism of sugar, starches, fats, and protein, and is required by most cells in the body to transport glucose across the cell membrane, providing fuel and energy at a cellular level.

When the body is reacting normally, the natural response of the body upon the release of insulin for the blood glucose levels is to elevate. This glucose helps to complete the digestion of starchy substances.

So how does it go wrong?

When a horse or pony suffers with insulin resistance, this means that their body does not process glucose properly. This means that the energy stores are depleted, and critically that the delivery of glucose to the cells to not occur; instead, when starch or sugar is ingested, the body’s response is to store the glucose in fat and muscle, instead of in the cells.

Insulin resistance is extremely serious, as it can lead to the equine having fatty deposits around the body, an increased level of inflammation, body and hoof pain, lack of energy and a higher risk of laminitis.

 So what does this mean for horse owners?

In order to reduce the risk of your horse developing insulin resistance, the key is a suitable, appropriate and balanced diet, combined with regular exercise.

Forage provides natural fibre for our horses, giving a low carbohydrate and low sugar food source, but what about when they need those extra nutrients to perform? Sometimes a concentrate feed is required, but if not, cut the calories and feed a supplement such as Horse and Pony Multi Vitamin Supplement from Scientific Nutritional Products with a simple chaff. This will help boost the levels of vitamins and minerals in the diet, ensuring your horse or pony receives optimum nutrients which promote health without increasing the calorific quantity of the diet.  

In terms of management, reducing excessive access to lush pasture and maintaining regular, correct hoof care plays a crucial part in preventing Insulin Resistance. Reducing stress levels has also been beneficial in reducing the instances of the condition, so this is worth bearing in mind!

If you think your horse may be suffering with insulin resistance, look out for the following signs; common symptoms include frequent ‘tying up’, or severe pain, sweating and discomfort upon exercise, unusual or inconsistent behavioural symptoms, such as aggression, hyperactivity or lethargy, recurrent laminitis, and stiffness or inflammation in the joints. If you think your horse may be struggling with insulin resistance, contact your veterinarian and they may conduct a blood test and in some instances, a muscle biopsy.

A range of supplements are available from Scientific Nutritional Products, including Horse and Pony Multivitamin Supplement. For more information about the supplement range or to keep up with our informative and educational blog visit the website at

For articles and info on equestrian matters please visit . This is the website of the UKs Pegasus Magazine. Visit to find out how to access the printed version. The site also features useful horsey articles.


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