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Ep. 073: Navigating the Diet Struggle: Feeding Your Carb Sensitive Horse

On this episode, co-host Katy Starr and guest expert Dr. Stephen Duren, PhD, MS, PAS discuss the struggles carbohydrate sensitive performance horses and their owners experience, along with a grain-free feed solution.

Episode Notes

Welcome back to the new year!


On this episode, co-host Katy Starr and guest expert Dr. Stephen Duren, PhD, MS, PAS discuss carbohydrate sensitivity in performance horses including:

  • The differences between dietary starch, water soluble carbohydrates (WSC), ethanol soluble carbohydrates (ESC), and non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) – and what carbohydrate sensitive horses should and should NOT consume
  • Understanding the role that alfalfa, teff grass, beet pulp, rice bran, flaxseed meal and more play in a horse’s diet
  • Helping horse owners provide their horses with the right nutrient requirements in a safe manner, while minimizing the preparation workload


We cover A LOT in this episode - from breaking down the main function of the horse’s digestive system, to what is happening in the body of a horse who is sensitive to carbohydrates to discussing a fiber-based, grain-free, molasses-free solution for these types of horses who need extra calories due to a higher activity level or for those who struggle to keep weight on.


Have a topic idea or feedback to share? We want to connect with you! Email


Katy Starr (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:02):

And I'm Dr. Cubitt. We're going Beyond the Barn. Come join us on this journey as we bust equine and livestock nutrition myths, and interview some of the most intriguing experts in the country.


Katy Starr (00:15):

We'll go behind the scenes of how premium Western quality forage is grown and brought to your favorite farm and ranch retail store. We're so glad you're here. 


Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn, and welcome back to the new year. Today we have Dr. Duren joining us on the podcast. Welcome, Dr. Duren.


Dr. Stephen Duren (00:39):

Thanks for having me.


Katy Starr (00:40):

Today we're going to be talking about kind of combining the basics of the horse's digestive system with one of the more popular places that we're going with current equine research, the microbiome, just to kind of see how we can really work with the horse's digestive system to truly benefit the horse. And so I'm really excited to get into our topic today.


Dr. Stephen Duren (01:04):



Katy Starr (01:05):

Before we get going, I just want to remind our listeners that any of the topics that we do cover on the Beyond the Barn podcast are more generalized and are not specific to any individual horse or any specific situation. So be sure to always work with your veterinarian or nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your horse's feed program. Or you can reach out and talk directly with Dr. Cubitt or Dr. Duren on any specifics that you would like to know given your horse and situation. So Dr. Duren, in past episodes, I know we've talked a little bit about the horse's digestive system, but I really want to get into kind of the role and value of forage in the horse's diet. So just to kind of help us set the stage a little bit for today's conversation, can you explain the purpose of the horse's stomach within the horse's digestive system?


Dr. Stephen Duren (01:58):

Yeah. So the horses anatomically arranged, or the digestive track of the horse is designed, if you will, for digestion of forage products, of fiber type products. And that process begins, certainly you pass through the mouth, you have the teeth that will masticate, saliva added, swallowed through the esophagus. But the first major digestive tissue you get to is the stomach. And the feature of the horse's stomach that's really important for listeners to know that own horses, is the horse has a very small stomach. It's small in relation to the size of the rest of the digestive system, but it's also small in relation to the size of the horse. And this is very important because it gives us a very strong take home message and that take home message is, they have a small stomach, which dictates meal size. Horses are designed to take in and digest small amounts of feed on a continuous basis, rather than take in large single meals such as a ruminant - a cow or a sheep would do. They take in small continuous meals, and that's based on the anatomical size of the stomach, small, simple stomach. So that's the first major digestive tissue, very strong acid that's produced there. Hydrochloric acid, pepsin, an enzyme that begins protein digestion and general mixing of feed stuffs to start the digestive process.


Katy Starr (03:25):

Excellent. And then how about the horse's small intestine?


Dr. Stephen Duren (03:29):

So that's the next area. So the feed material will empty out of the stomach and it will go into the small intestine. The small intestine in an adult horse is about 80 feet, would have a similar appearance and diameter to a garden hose. So it's interweaved within the abdominal cavity of the horse. The small intestine has enzyme digestion. There are enzymes that are secreted into the small intestine that begin the digestion enzymatically of carbohydrates, of proteins, fats, etc. in the small intestine. So the take home message for the small intestine, or what I'd like the listeners to get is the small intestine, that’s the area of the digestive system where the grain portion of the diet is digested. So again, because of that small, simple stomach, because the rate of passage, the movement of material can be so fast through that small intestine, it's very important that the grains you feed your horses are processed, are rolled, crimped, ground, pelleted, extruded. All those things are very important because it increases the surface area for those enzymes in the small intestine to get that material broken down and absorbed. So small intestine, site of grain absorption, enzyme digestion.


Katy Starr (04:47):

Excellent. And then we move into the horse's large intestine. So what does that do?


Dr. Stephen Duren (04:52):

Yeah, so that is by far the largest area of the digestive system. About 65% of the digestive capacity consists of the cecum, which is a little blind pouch, and the colon or large intestine, together they're a very balloon or voluminous area. So material, when it gets to that particular area, the digestive system slows down. There's no longer the pressure like water through a garden hose. You get to this big balloon area and things slow down. It slows down to allow fermentation. So the large intestine has what they call a microbiome, a host of bacteria and microorganisms, and they ferment fiber. That's primarily what they like to ferment. So that is the area, again, a take home message for listeners, that is the area of the digestive system where the fiber component of the diet is digested. So the hay, the pasture, the beet pulp, those are the areas where that is digested in the large intestine.


Katy Starr (05:55):

Excellent. And so, from your experience as a PhD equine nutritionist, with the clients that you've worked with and all the horses that you've worked with, how much importance do horse owners tend to place on the hay or forage component of the diet versus concentrates or grain versus supplements?


Dr. Stephen Duren (06:17):

Yeah, so with the knowledge that we just discussed of the small intestine and that the largest part of the digestive system is geared to digestion of fiber or forage, and so that should be the most important component of the diet. Yet it's interesting, horse owners will get very concerned about what grain concentrate or what supplement they're feeding. And hay is often left to chance, oh, this is the hay we have, or this is the hay that's available, or this is the type of pasture I have. I haven't done anything to improve it. So they get quite concerned about which supplement or which grain concentrate their feeding, but they don't get as excited, if you will, about selecting the proper hay and the forage component, whether it be hay or pasture, is the largest component. It's the biggest portion you put into the diet, yet it's often not seen as the most important when it truly should be.


Katy Starr (07:12):

Right. And so we frequently view hay or forage specifically as a means of giving horses the nutrients they need to meet those nutrient requirements. But can it actually go beyond that? Can we actually view it maybe more as kind of therapeutic?


Dr. Stephen Duren (07:32):

Yeah, absolutely. So just to kind of recap what we knew about fiber digestion, we knew for a long time that the hindgut, if you will, the large intestine of the horse contained this microbiome. And we thought that this microbiome just simply digested the fiber. The fiber then provided nutrients. So then we thought of forage and fiber, well it’s a nutrient source. It speeds that microbiome. And then the microbiome in turn gives us useful end products or the horse useful in products that provide protein, that provide energy, that provide nutrients for that horse. And we thought of that as kind of a stop for a long time. But we know now that if you simply change the forage that your horse is eating, he's eating a grass hay, you change to a straight alfalfa hay, you will have a digestive upset. Why is that? That microbiome has gotten used to a type of forage.


Dr. Stephen Duren (08:29):

Okay. So then we saw, well, if we have a diarrhea or we have a situation, can we change it back? Can we change the forage and get a potential therapeutic effect? That was some of the very first concepts we have. And now we know that there are other conditions. We know that, for instance, gastric ulcers, we can utilize forage as a therapy there. We know that horses with carbohydrate sensitivities or horses that have certain types of tying-up episodes, we know that forage can be therapeutic. So I guess the horizon, if you will, or what we see with forage is vastly different than what we thought about 20 years ago.


Katy Starr (09:09):

Right. It's really incredible how it's changed over the years.


Dr. Stephen Duren (09:13):

Yeah. And it probably hasn't changed. I think it's just that we've become better listeners or better observers of


Katy Starr (09:20):



Dr. Stephen Duren (09:21):

What truly makes so, exactly, yeah. Of what makes a horse healthy. And so it's happened that way for a long time, but it's taken us, unfortunately, a long time to figure it out and realize the true value that forage has, one as a nutrient source, but secondly as therapy to different disease processes.


Katy Starr (09:40):

Excellent. So an increasing issue in the horse world is carbohydrate sensitivity, which you mentioned just a few minutes ago, a little bit. But can you explain a little bit in more detail what that is and the different diseases that kind of fall under that?


Dr. Stephen Duren (09:59):

Absolutely. So carbohydrate sensitivity is this big fancy word that means that, alright, my horse may have a disease process that makes the dietary carbohydrate, and by carbohydrate we're talking about starches and sugars. The high intake of that would make the disease process worse. So the simplest one to think about is insulin resistant. Insulin, as you know, is a hormone that's responsible for taking the glucose, the sugar in the blood, and driving that into the tissues, the muscle, etc. so that it can be used for muscle contraction or driving it into the mammary gland for milk production or whatever it happens to be. So in the case of insulin resistance, the tissues have become insensitive to insulin. In other words, it takes more insulin to get the job done. It doesn't mean the horse doesn't produce insulin, it just takes more to get that sugar cleared from the blood.


Dr. Stephen Duren (10:57):

So if you have a horse with insulin resistance and you're feeding a very high sugar starch diet, meaning you're driving sugar levels in his blood high and it's having trouble clearing that, that can make the disease process worse. And then chronic levels of high blood sugar, chronic levels of high insulin can actually cause some other disease processes, laminitis, etc. which is a cascade of problems that the horse can suffer from. So insulin resistance is just one of those diseases. So there are others. There's type one polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), a tying-up episode, okay. Where these horses have a mutation in a gene that causes them to store extra glycogen or extra sugar into muscles. So if you're feeding a high sugar diet and you have a gene mutation that's packing the muscle with glycogen, a high sugar starch diet would make that condition even worse.


Dr. Stephen Duren (11:56):

So those are just two. There are others as well, but there are a number of these diseases where the veterinarians and the nutritionists have started to work together and say, you know, we can medicate for this, but if we medicate and change diet, that's truly therapeutic, we can get ahead of some of these. And we've started to work a lot closer. Veterinary medicine is, you know, certainly I'm not a veterinarian, and certainly a lot of the veterinarians are certainly not nutritionists, but we've used our combined knowledge and said, okay, here's the disease and this is what I'm doing from a medication standpoint, and here's the disease, how can you help me nutritionally? And so it's exciting that we're actually working on some of these conditions as a group rather than individuals.


Katy Starr (12:43):

Right. And I think as we talk more through this and even into our next episode, that just how important taking some of these preventative measures can really set you up for success and your horse for just being, you know, healthier. It's so much better to be more preventative than to get to a point where you're then kind of backpedaling and like, oh man, now I don't know what to do. I'm overwhelmed. This is such an issue. And so I think it's better to kind of take that road.


Dr. Stephen Duren (13:16):

Absolutely. And to put that in perspective, years ago we used to think a horse that was 15, was old. Okay. And now you have pick a discipline, you'll be able to find athletes within that discipline, equine athletes within that discipline that are far older than that. So the longevity, the things that we've been able to do with veterinary medicine, healthcare, and nutrition, have allowed our companions to live longer. Well, this has also presented other challenges as they live longer, some of these other diseases develop. And so preventing a disease is going to enhance that longevity. And we certainly have gotten better at it, but we can even get better in the future.


Katy Starr (13:58):

Right. We want them to live long, healthy, good lives, not ones that are filled with struggle and pain.


Dr. Stephen Duren (14:07):

Exactly. And a lot of these conditions, some of the carbohydrate conditions are tied with age. In other words, they're more common in elderly equine than younger equine. So we've done such a good job in taking care. Then sometimes they'll develop these conditions. Well, it's certainly not a death sentence, it just means we need to manage these horses properly and in certain cases medicate these horses properly and they continue to function at a very high level.


Katy Starr (14:35):

Right. Can you share a little bit more about teff grass hay and alfalfa hay, how these types kind of influence a carbohydrate sensitive horse versus some of the other types of hay that are out there and more in a general sense? Right.


Dr. Stephen Duren (14:53):

Yeah. So we know that through the normal process of photosynthesis, when the sun shines on grass, the normal process that it will happen is you'll get carbohydrate, sugars will be formed, and then in the evening when the sun goes down, then the plant will take those simple carbohydrates, form them into complicated carbohydrates, take sugar, form it into fiber as the plant grows. There is my highly simplified photosynthesis. But basically we know that there are certain plant types that accumulate more sugar. And predominantly those are the cool season grasses. So the timothy, the orchard, the rye, the fescue, the bluegrass, those grasses will accumulate a higher sugar content. The seeds that we've developed and improved, we've actually improved them to contain more sugar because those plants will survive better and animal production will be better, cattle will gain more weight, sheep will gain more weight, etc.


Dr. Stephen Duren (15:56):

And those are the pastures and hay types we use for horses as well. So we know that they can be high in sugar content, but we know that there are certain other forages that don't store sugar the same way. And teff grass is a warm season grass, and warm season grasses don't have the high sugar content. They store their sugar differently, so they don't have those high levels. The legume alfalfa is the same way. So by default, warm season grasses like teff grass and legume forages like alfalfa are also low in sugar and starch. So they can be therapeutic for horses that are carbohydrate sensitive.


Katy Starr (16:39):

Right. Excellent. So we've talked quite a bit about, you know, some of these horses that struggle with, you know, their sugar and starch intake. And then talking a little bit about the teff grass and alfalfa. I want us to now kind of lead into something that Standlee has been working on with, you know, the support of and expertise of Performance Horse Nutrition, your team over there, Dr. Duren, we have created a product called Smart Carb Performance. And so what we were hoping to do with this was see these struggles, see kind of these pains that our horses are kind of going through, and what can we do to then come in and really support that animal, their digestive system and really make it something that's really going to support our horses that are struggling with some of these ailments. And so can you walk us through, first of all, what Smart Carb Performance is and how it's being used to help our horses?


Dr. Stephen Duren (17:48):

Yeah, absolutely. So picture this, if you will. You've had a horse in your care for a long time. The horse has developed an ailment, the veterinarian’s involved. And the ailment that that horse has developed is he's sugar sensitive. So the veterinarian and nutritionist tell you, you need to feed low sugar hay. So you begin to analyze all the hay in your area for sugar content, and you start to drive yourself wild in trying to find hay that's low enough in sugar. Well then your nutritionist or your veterinarian says you could soak that hay and by soaking it, you could reduce some of the sugar and starch. You see, the work level we've just put on the horse owner? He or she has a family, he or she wants to ride their horse, he or she wants to enjoy their horse, and now you have them analyzing every hay in the county and you have them soaking hay and going through all these hoops, which they're gladly going to go through to make their horse healthy.


Dr. Stephen Duren (18:46):

So what we wanted to do is we wanted to create a product that was consistent, something that they did not have to test each and every time, something that would deliver that low carbohydrate forage component for them. So that's how Smart Carb Performance was developed. It's performance, because we've added some additional calories to it. A lot of those horses that are carbohydrate sensitive, some are certainly overweight, but there's a whole host of others that aren't, or a whole host of others that are engaged in performance activities that are just sugar sensitive. So we added some additional calories to that to make it both low carbohydrate and a higher calorie content forage.


Katy Starr (19:32):

Right. No, that's excellent. So let's talk about some of the ingredients that are in there that do serve that support for that performance horse that is needing those additional calories.


Dr. Stephen Duren (19:44):

Well, first we lead with the low carbohydrate ingredients. So it's a fiber-based product. There's no grain or molasses in it; that has to be a given. So the main fiber components are the ones we just spoke about, teff grass. Okay. A warm season grass that's low in sugar and starch every time. Alfalfa, it's got a small amount of alfalfa in it, low in sugar and starch every time. Okay. Beet pulp. Okay. Low in sugar and starch because it's a byproduct of the sugar industry. They took the sugar out so that they could put it in your soft drink. Okay. So it's a great fiber source. So those are our main three fiber sources that we use. But then I want to add extra calories. So the first way I add extra calories is I can add it as an oil. So I utilize canola oil to do that. I can utilize something that, again, is a dry form of fat so we can make a pellet. So I can use some stabilized rice bran and some flax seed to drive that fat level of the product up, calorie content of the product up without driving the sugar starch level of the product up.


Katy Starr (20:52):

Right. And then talk a little bit about the yeast culture that is included in this product.


Dr. Stephen Duren (20:59):

Yeah. So since this is not a powder or a meal, it's a pellet, that gives me the ability to add extra things into the product. So I added a live cell yeast culture that we've shown in studies will stimulate fibrolytic bacteria in the hindgut of the horse, in the large intestine of the horse. Those fibrolytic bacteria are what ferment plant fiber. Okay. What keep that microbiome doing what it's supposed to do. So we add that live cell yeast culture. What many listeners don't often appreciate is the digestive system of the horse is the largest immune organ in the body. It keeps pathogens out, it screens all those things. It's got that surface area where harmful things can be absorbed into the body, and a healthful microbiome stops that. So we added that yeast culture to stimulate that microbiome to keep it healthy as well as so that this horse can utilize the fibers that we put in this product as well as the fibers in the rest of the diet.


Katy Starr (22:02):

So it's almost like hitting two birds with one stone. You have the low carbohydrate option there that's serving that purpose, but then you're helping the microbiome to properly, you know, ferment everything that's going on in the digestive system there in that large intestine and supporting immune function, which is a huge part as well.


Dr. Stephen Duren (22:25):

Exactly. And it's actually a tri-fold effect because you're also increasing the calorie content. So it's a way of boosting the calories for a performance horse that may be carbohydrate sensitive, or one that you don't want to become carbohydrate sensitive. So yeah, it's low carbohydrate forages certainly, it's the microbiome stimulus certainly. And it's then it's the added calories as non-carbohydrate model that is the premise of this feed.


Katy Starr (22:53):

That's excellent. And you've mentioned this a few times about the pellet form, but what is so beneficial about the fact that this is in a pellet form rather than some sort of other like mixed forage product or something like that?


Dr. Stephen Duren (23:10):

Yeah. So the pelleted form allows us to mix accurately the proportions that we want of teff, of alfalfa, of beet pulp. If you consider how a customer would have to do that, if they have a horse and they have to hand add beet pulp, okay. And they have to soak it and they have to soak the hay and then they have to add an oil to it, the labor. So what we were trying to do is simplify the feeding, address a problem with a solution, but make it easy enough that the client has an opportunity to get it accomplished so that they can then go and enjoy their horse and do something besides spend the entire day soaking and dragging and doing all the things necessary to feed this horse. So putting it in a pellet allowed us to control very accurately the delivery of nutrients to that horse.


Katy Starr (24:00):

And I'm thinking even too, it's really nice that, you know, you don't have a product where it's going to maybe partially, some of it settle to the bottom of the bag, and so that makes it really nice.


Dr. Stephen Duren (24:12):

Yeah, there's no question if it's in a long stem form, a chopped form, and then that gets manufactured and then put in a bag and then put on a pallet and then shipped in a truck or a train car and then unloaded at a feed store and then into the back of your trunk and then into your feed room, you can see how that constant shaking will separate those ingredients. You don't have that situation in a pellet.


Katy Starr (24:35):

Right. And can you walk us through the guaranteed analysis that is on the Smart Carb packaging? So let's say if we were to go into our, you know, our favorite local farm and ranch retailer and find this on the shelf, how do we read the nutrient information that's on it and what is it specifically telling us about this product?


Dr. Stephen Duren (24:57):

Yeah, so the nutrient analysis or the guaranteed analysis is something that's specified. We put certain things by law on there to protect the consumer. When we start talking about carbohydrates or you mentioned low carbohydrate or Smart Carb, you're referencing carbohydrate, you also have to guarantee those nutrients as well. So lots of things are standard on the guaranteed analysis. By law, we have to put the protein content, which is 14, by law we have to put the amount of fat. This is an 8% fat product. So we boosted the caloric value of it. We have to put different indices of fiber. So we have to put crude fiber, acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber, all those things, again required by law. We put calcium and phosphorus. We did that not because calcium and phosphorus are added as separate ingredients, but each of those ingredients does contain calcium and phosphorus.


Dr. Stephen Duren (25:58):

And we wanted to show the consumer that there was a balanced calcium and phosphorus ratio. And then specific for the Smart Carb that the important thing for the consumer to look at is the carbohydrate profile. And that's listed. And typically what is listed is starch, simple sugar or sugar content and fructans. Those are all listed. And so we want, for a disease horse, we want the addition or the, if you add those three carbohydrate profiles together, you want that to be less than 10. And what we did in this product is we guarantee that at less than 10, so we'll have some variability. And it's, the carbohydrate profile is often, typically much less than even shown, but the guaranteed are maximum levels that are in that product. So again, trying to assure the customer that they don't have to mix and add water and do all those things to lower content of carbohydrate, we guarantee what the carbohydrate content is.


Katy Starr (26:57):

So then when we're talking about how you mentioned, you know, we want to see, you know, less than 10% what we call NSC or non-structural carbohydrates, because this is a question that we get often. What specifically is included in that when you're trying to figure out that number?


Dr. Stephen Duren (27:15):

Yeah, so this is a train wreck between nutrition and governing bodies of feed regulatory people. Because on a feed, anybody's feed Standlee's product, any national branded product, what they list is starch and sugar. And the sugar is ESC, ethanol soluble carbohydrate. Okay. If you wanted to calculate what the non-structural carbohydrate value is, okay. Which currently no laboratory does, but yet all horse people want that number. And it doesn't exist. So it's a train wreck. So now you get people saying, well, I'll just add up the sugar and the starch and call that non-structural carbohydrate. And that's technically not correct. It's supposed to be water-soluble carbohydrate plus starch is approximately equivalent to non-structural carbohydrate. So we're basically giving the horse person nothing to compare. Yet if we put that number on there, the regulatory people would crucify us. So unfortunately, it's the horse people that lose. So if you add the sugar content, ESC plus starch. Okay, no, you don't get the non-structural carbohydrate. It will be slightly higher than that because the ethanol soluble carbohydrate is a subset of water soluble carbohydrate. So there is no good way that any consumer can look at a feed tag and tell exactly what that is.


Katy Starr (28:53):

Exactly. So this product then, for example, like let's say you were working with a horse owner, one-on-one, and we're looking at this product and they're in a situation where they need to have that lower sugar and starch. We're seeing the dietary starch, sugars, and fructans that we have listed on there. What number combined, I guess, are we looking at those three combined to be able to get that figure? Or how would you speak to a horse owner on this specific product to know, hey, this is what we're looking at that's going to give you what you need to meet your horse's needs?


Dr. Stephen Duren (29:26):

Yeah, so you’ve got to remember that the horse person is going to try to compare, right? And if they call Standlee and they say, we want the water, or excuse me, we want the non-structural carbohydrate value of that, we can give them a number. That was what we tested in the last laboratory tested or what we averaged and added together, WSC plus starch and give them that number.


Katy Starr (29:47):

That calculation. Mm-Hmm.


Dr. Stephen Duren (29:48):

But that's not going to help them make a decision when they're standing at a farm retailer. The information on the bag is starch, sugar, and fructan. So I would start by adding those together and that'd give you a good ballpark.


Katy Starr (30:04):

Ballpark at least. Just so they're not, because you'd mentioned before that sometimes it ends up being a little higher, so if it's higher than I guess you would want to make sure that you're just getting it at that lower level. So you're definitely not getting it beyond what that horse is needing.


Dr. Stephen Duren (30:18):

Yeah. And remember you're trying to move the needle Towards low carbohydrate. You're never going to take all the carbohydrate out. You're just trying to move the needle. And so if you have guaranteed values, okay, that this feed, day in, day out will be at those or lower, not higher, lower. So we test them, okay, know what the numbers are and then put a safe. Okay. Occasionally you'll have some variability in forage, the numbers may go slightly higher and we've actually guaranteed a value. So they have that that they can use.


Katy Starr (30:53):

Excellent. And then we have on the final thing on that guaranteed analysis is that yeast culture that's listed.


Dr. Stephen Duren (31:01):

Yep. And so that's what they do is they'll list a yeast culture. So you know how much and the irony of that and you mentioned right at the top of this podcast that the study of the equine microbiome is at a feverish pitch. And the reason that is, is we're finding out, you know, that it does so much more than just simply ferment fiber and we know that it's involved in certain diseases and all those sorts of things. So trying to keep it healthy. So we put those things in, we guarantee like yeast culture, we guarantee how much we put in there so that you can have a comparison. What we don't know is exactly what level. We know that it's completely safe, but we don't know if, let's say 15 million colony forming units is better than 10 million. And so we will find that out hopefully in short order. There's a number of good laboratories working on the equine microbiome and we're going to get some more information. So that little tube of probiotics that you give your horse, that will change significantly in the next five years. What packages we put into different feed products will change drastically. So we're in our infancy. We know they're safe, we know they're helpful, but we don't know the exact ratios and we're working all that out now.


Katy Starr (32:21):

Yeah. It's exciting to see just how much we've been progressing in this area of research.


Dr. Stephen Duren (32:27):

Yeah. But it's frustrating for horse owners too. They're like, why don't you have this figured out? You know, my horse is sick now, you know?


Katy Starr (32:32):

Right. But it's so huge. It's such a huge, I wonder if people don't realize that too. It is just, I mean, even in the human world, right? How much that we're trying to learn and understand about the human microbiome also, like this is like the ticket everywhere.


Dr. Stephen Duren (32:46):

Yeah. But when your child is sick, you're worried about your child and getting them better. When a horse is not feeling well or a horse is ADR “ain't doing right.” They're worried about their horse and they're like, well, science needs to catch up.


Katy Starr (33:00):

I need this yesterday. 


Dr. Stephen Duren (33:02):

Exactly. And so we are certainly working on it. And again, it's the most actively studied thing right now in equine nutrition as a whole, microbiome. So we're getting there, but yeah. Takes time. 


Katy Starr (33:14):

Yep. Yep. So how would you recommend to horse owners how to feed the Smart Carb Performance product? Do we actually end up replacing some of the hay in the diet with it? How do we transition that?


Dr. Stephen Duren (33:27):

Yeah, absolutely. So what we're trying to do, as I mentioned before, is we're trying to move the carbohydrate needle, okay. From a high carbohydrate diet, because that horse is sensitive to carbohydrate. We're trying to move that needle lower, we're trying to move that needle so that horse isn't taking in as much sugar and starch. So typically what we do and what, how we recommend this is as a therapy forage, not a total replacement of your forage, but if any of the forage that you replace with the Smart Carb okay, is going to lower the sugar and starch intake of that horse. So typically most horses are less than half of their forage is ever replaced with this. Typically 25% is a great target. So if the horse is eating 20 pounds of hay a day, you take that 20 pounds, reduce it to 15 and add five pounds of the Smart Carb, you're significantly reducing the sugar and starchy intake of that horse.


Katy Starr (34:28):

And transitioning it just looks like transitioning any other type of new feed or forage to a horse's diet.


Dr. Stephen Duren (34:35):

Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve got to remember it's new. So you don't say, okay, he said feed five pounds, here you go. That's tomorrow. No, gradually add it because remember it’s a different fiber maybe than your horse's seen. That microbiome is sensitive. And we certainly don't want to cause any kind of digestive stress or disruption or dysbiosis, if you will, of the microbiome. So, you know, it's certainly a seven day introduction of that product is fine. The other thing to remember is it does not have added vitamins and minerals. So we didn't add copper, zinc, selenium, all those things that are in your normal feeds or your normal ration balancers. So it does not interfere with anybody's nutrition program. It just drives the sugar lower and provides additional calories as non-carbohydrate sources, oils.


Katy Starr (35:24):

Excellent. And what is the shelf life of the Smart Carb Performance?


Dr. Stephen Duren (35:30):

Yeah, so in a controlled environment where you don't have it out associated with the weather or heat and humidity, it would store like any other forage. So you could have it for years on a shelf, as long as you protected it from the elements, there would be no issue with that at all.


Katy Starr (35:47):

And I'd love to do a couple of example scenarios now with you just to kind of give listeners an idea, right. We're not doing any specifics like we talked about earlier, any individuals or anything like that. But let's say we have a dressage horse. Let's talk about maybe some like their intensity and frequency of exercise, you know, any underlying health conditions. If you were to go and visit a dressage horse and go ahead and place, you know, some example situation here for us, what would you do to work with that horse owner to help use this product as a solution for a need that they have?


Dr. Stephen Duren (36:23):

Yeah, so the example that would come to my mind would be a dressage horse that's either just starting into his training performance, a young horse or a dressage horse that has come off an injury and maybe just restarting in his training. So typical dressage horses, depending on the level of dressage that they're at that would determine the intensity of exercise. But the duration and the frequency, these horses would work at least five days a week, sometimes six days a week. So frequent exercise given to them. So if you were going to come in and say, all right, I want to make sure this horse has plenty of calories that he can perform the exercise, but I don't want those all his sugar calories. You could come in and just replace 25% of his current forage with the Smart Carb, drive that down, still feed all of the requirements, for fiber are met, all the requirements for energy are met, but you're just doing it with a lower carbohydrate product.


Dr. Stephen Duren (37:26):

So that is a scenario that I would use. Young horses, sometimes that will help with focus on a young horse, that they don't have a lot of their energy provided to them is very rapid generation energy as the, as the sugar and starch. It's a fiber-based energy. It's a fat-based energy, which is a, a slower burn if you will. So it helps with those horses as far as tractability or trainability. And then the other scenario that would work is a more experienced horse that may be coming off an injury that had stall rest. Well, when they're in a stall rest situation, you certainly don't want them excitable or kicking the wall or potentially re-injuring themselves. So oftentimes saying, hey, I'm going to feed you a high forage diet, but it's not going to be as high in sugar and starch. So again, a great place to put that in.


Katy Starr (38:15):

Excellent. And then if you were to look at maybe a situation with like a Western pleasure horse?


Dr. Stephen Duren (38:23):

The same sort of situation applies. Western performance horses, especially a western pleasure type horse, they've got to maintain that calm demeanor, that very calm gait, smooth gate in a show ring. And a lot of that, there's all kinds of distractions going on, whether it's indoors or outdoors. All the elements can play a factor in that. How can you keep them quieter? Well, if they don't have as much sugar and starch in their diet, that may be an aid to that. So again, coming back in and saying, alright, I'm going to feed you something that provides the calories so that I can get the exercise performance that we need. Okay. The higher fat product. But I don't want all the sugar and starch. Okay. So I'm going to feed a lower in sugar and starch forage to kind of help again, move that needle down.


Katy Starr (39:11):

And are there any other types of horses? I mean we've talked a lot about performance horses through this episode, but are there other types of horses that could benefit from the Smart Carb Performance product?


Dr. Stephen Duren (39:25):

Yeah, absolutely. So most of the time when people think of carbohydrates sensitive horses, they think these horses are overweight. And there certainly are some of those that are overweight, but there are some of those horses with Cushing's disease that may actually be underweight. Okay. They still require the low carbohydrate diet, but they need a higher calorie content. So those horses would benefit. Also, senior horses that are having trouble maintaining weight as horses age, they lose muscle mass. So they have less space, if you will, to push that glucose into tissues. They're carbohydrate sensitive. So this would be a great thing for senior horses, the fact that it's pelleted and you don't have to worry about dentition or them properly chewing it. You can just soak it, makes it a great product in that. A rescue horse, a horse that is for whatever reason underweight, you correct the health issue and then feed this a low carbohydrate feed, but a higher calorie feed, that's an option as well. So lots of different things that it can be used for.


Katy Starr (40:28):

Right, right. Helpful for those hard keepers sometimes too. So you've recently attended AAEP, the American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, had an opportunity to speak to some veterinarians about this product. Were there some common questions or thoughts that, you know, came from that experience?


Dr. Stephen Duren (40:49):

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the veterinarians fully are aware that, you know, some of the major things that they see in their client's, horses are horses that have become for whatever reasoning, for whatever disease process, carbohydrate sensitive. And they see a tremendous amount of non-compliance. Okay. By non-compliance. They give the owner the instructions. Yes, you have to feed a low sugar and starch diet, you have to find a hay that's lower in sugar and starch. And quite honestly that the owners can't comply because they can't find those products. So they challenged us several years ago, well, can't you put something like that in a bag where they can purchase it? And they don't have to analyze it, they don't have to soak it, they don't have to do any of that. And so they were very receptive that we'd finally have a product that we can bring to market that will satisfy their needs of their equine patients, but do it so the owners have an ability to be compliant.


Katy Starr (41:49):

Right. Make their lives a little bit easier in the process.


Dr. Stephen Duren (41:53):

Absolutely. I mean, you want to enjoy your horse and feeding is certainly part of the enjoyment, but at the same time, you don't want to make that such a labor of love, that you don't get to do the other fun things with horses.


Katy Starr (42:04):

Exactly. So what would you say are a few key takeaways that you'd like to leave our listeners with today about Standlee's new product, Smart Carb Performance and how it can support their horses?


Dr. Stephen Duren (42:20):

Yeah, so again, the take home message is we've delivered a product to you that you don't have to analyze. You don't have to soak to reduce the carbohydrate. We've given you a product that's fiber-based, no grain, no molasses added to it, that you can look at it and say, alright, here is a way that I can reduce the carbohydrate, the sugar/starch intake of my horse without having to do all the other labor to get that accomplished. So finally, kind of a, a product that addresses certainly a problem that's common in horses with a solution that's something available at a feed store.


Katy Starr (42:58):

Thank you so much. And we're going to have you back on here to talk about another kind of new product solution that we are bringing forth to horse owners that's going to be a little bit more supportive on the side of gastric ulcers and helping with damaged tissue. You know, that could sometimes be caused by stress and things like that. So a lot of these things that horses experience, right, like trailering, competition, those things that kind of bring upon stress to them, we're not done yet. We got more coming. And so we're really excited to have you come join us back for that conversation as well, Dr. Duren. 


Dr. Stephen Duren (43:33):

Yep. Look forward to it.


Katy Starr (43:34):

Thank you. For our listeners, thank you so much for being here with us today. Welcome to 2024. If you have some topic ideas that you would like us to cover on the Beyond the Barn Podcast this year, please reach out to us at and we look forward to hearing from you. So again, thanks for being here, Dr. Duren. 


Dr. Stephen Duren (43:55):

No worries.


Katy Starr (43:57):

Thanks for listening to The Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight and don't forget to turn off the water.


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