Are Peppermints Spoiling My Horse's Diet?

Although you should decrease sugars and calories from an overweight horse's diet, a few peppermints a day aren't likely to negate your efforts.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Q. I have an extremely easy keeper who, after a summer spent grazing lush grass, gained a ton of weight and is now obese—I’d guess a body condition score of 8 (on a scale of 1 to 9). She’s now living on a drylot and getting more exercise to bring her weight down, and the vet suggested we soak her hay to reduce some of its sugars. I still give her five or six peppermints a day out of habit and wondered if that’s offsetting all the hard work we’re doing to help her lose weight.

Elise, Tomball, Texas


A. Soaking hay is an excellent way to decrease sugars and calories in your horse’s hay. Research has shown that soaking hay for 16 hours at 8° Celcius (46.4° Fahrenheit) reduces the hay’s water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC, or simple sugars) by 27% (Longland et al., 2011). To put this into context, if a horse is eating 8 kg (17.6 lbs) of grass hay with approximately 12% WSC, the 960 grams of WSC in the hay initially would decrease to 797 grams, a reduction of 163 grams of sugar (which equates to approximately 0.65 megacalories of energy, or 650 calories in human terms). In comparison, one peppermint candy is approximately 5 grams, all sugar. So feeding five peppermints would equate to 25 grams of sugar (about 0.1 megacalories of energy, or 100 calories). Therefore, feeding a few peppermint candies isn’t going to impact your horse’s diet significantly. 

Obesity in horses can lead to health problems. Here are tips for feeding overweight horses to promote weight loss.

Calories can creep into your horse’s diet when you overfeed your horse, don’t carefully weigh his hay, or you feed a concentrated feed or even a ration balancer. While ration balancers can help top off nutrients that might be limited in hay, feeding 1-2 lbs of one per day could add 2-3 megacalories. A horse being fed to lose weight might be limited to only 12-14 megacalories per day as it is. Your horse might be better off getting more of those calories from hay and receiving a concentrated vitamin-mineral supplement (fed at 50-100 grams per day) and a protein supplement, such as soybean meal, if needed.

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