Q. What commercial feeds (brands, types etc.) are available for horses with Equine Metabolic Syndrome?

I do not like to recommend particular brands. I do, however, generally recommend looking for brands that have a good reputation, with a well-educated team of nutritionists and good customer service. The feeds should be made at facilities that don’t make other livestock feeds (to reduce the risk of cross-contamination) and use high-quality ingredients. With that said, many companies will have products that may be suitable for horses with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, as well as a number of other types of horses (broodmares, athletes, etc.).

Horses with EMS are characterized by obesity, insulin resistance and recurrent laminitis. In my opinion, the best way to manage all three of these issues is to get the horse to lose weight (fat). Weight loss will obviously decrease obesity, improve insulin sensitivity and can take pressure off of the limbs to help ease frail hooves (less body weight to support).

Weight loss studies in horses have the best results when horses are only fed between 1 to 1.5% of their total body weight per day as dry forage, with the lower 1% being recommended only after insufficient loss at 1.5 or 1.25% (monitored by a veterinarian). This restriction results in a relatively small amount of food – hay, ideally, as pasture is too rich and difficult to control intake – for a 500kg horse. That could be as little as 5kg (maybe three flakes of hay!).

Because most commercial feeds will have a higher energy density than hay, you’d likely want to limit/exclude them from your horse’s diet, rather than having to decrease the hay further.

In cases of Equine Metabolic Syndrome, therefore, I look for a low-quality hay, with lower calories per unit weight, which is often also lower in protein and higher in fibre. Then I balance the diet with an excellent protein source, like soybean meal, if the hay is too low in protein, and a vitamin/mineral supplement. There are commercial higher-protein ration balancers available that can do this also, but you should probably aim to feed less than 500g of the product, to minimize the calories coming from it. Again, so you don’t have to restrict hay further.

If you want to stick with a commercial product, your best bet would be to contact different feed companies to get their recommendations, and then sit down with an independent nutritionist and your hay analysis to help you select the best overall product for your horse.

So, to summarize, my go-to recipe for an EMS horse is low calorie density hay (fed in amounts low enough to get a consistent weight loss), soybean meal (amount depends on the hay and the horse, but in the neighborhood of 200 to 300 grams is likely sufficient) and a commercial vitamin-mineral mix that is fed at a rate of less than 50 to 75 grams per day.