In which the miraculous nature of beet pulp is discussed and lauded

Jane's horse Hudson is having tummy troubles.

Jane, and Hudson's former owner Bella, have always done right by Hudson, but his manure has been loose for years, and he's not masticating thoroughly enough now to process his food properly.  After a visit from the vet AND the equine dentist, and supplementing Hudson's feed with some electrolytes, he's back to his old feisty self...

but he ain't getting younger, and Jane suspects that adding in some easily-digested feed may help her big guy.


4 cups of dry beet pulp pellets

Beet pulp is the "stuff" left over after the usable sugar is extracted from sugar beets.  It's extruded into pellets or shreds, bagged up into 40-pound sacks, and sold as a livestock feed.  

Beet pulp is commonly fed to endurance horses.  The soaked feed is easy to chew/swallow, easy to digest, and supplies only slightly more calories than good quality hay, and fewer calories than an equivalent weight of oats.  Beet pulp contains about 10% protein, .8% calcium and .5% phosphorus, making it a more balanced source of energy and fiber than wheat bran.  

Researchers have found that beet pulp can comprise up to 50% of a horse's healthy diet.  Fiddle (who is not an easy keeper) prefers beet pulp to hay, and she eats a huge amount of beet pulp compared to many horses:  
8 cups of dry pellets + water = 2.5 gallons  for breakfast, 
and the same amount for dinner.  

(For reference purposes:  Fiddle is 10 years old, 15.3 hands, about 1100 pounds, and does 10-20 miles of trails each week, plus a dressage lesson.  She has a huge engine, and requires a lot of fuel to keep her engine going!)

The high fiber content of beet pulp seems to normalize fermentation in the horse's large colon, resulting in more efficient digestion overall, which is why many hard-keeper horses (like Fiddle) thrive on beet pulp.  It's relatively cheap, stable, easy to store, easy to feed, and horses actually like it.  Amazing, I know.

HERE is a rational-yet-readable description of beet pulp, penned by equine nutritionist Susan Garlinghouse DVM.

Close up of beet pulp pellets

The pellets we buy as animal feed have had the sugar removed--that's the first use for raw sugar beets.  Pelleted or shredded beet pulp is actually a secondary product of the sugar-making process;  therefore, the feed has a very low glycemic index.  Be aware that some feed companies add molasses to pelleted beet pulp in order to increase palatability.  A bag of unsweetened beet pulp will smell slightly sweet; a bag of sweetened beet pulp, by comparison, smells like a Jamaican rum factory.  

If you are unsure if your beet pulp is sweetened (the tag on the sack isn't always helpful), soak a cup of it in a gallon of water.  If the water turns brown, there is molasses added (you can throw the brown water out and add clean water--beet pulp sweetener rinses away very easily).  

If your horse turns up his nose at unsweetened beet pulp (rare), consider adding a SMALL amount of molasses to the mix at first.  If glycemic index is a concern for your horse,  mix in a cup of unsweetened applesauce instead of molasses.  Gradually decrease the "candy" additive over a week, and you will probably find that your horse will soon be licking the unsweetened bowl clean.

Beet pulp famously soaks up a phenomenal amount of water, which the horse takes in as part of the beet pulp feed.  Since hydration is a major concern for hard-working endurance horses during competition and training, any feed that will get water inside an endurance horse is considered a Good Thing.

High-tech, custom-designed beet pulp hydration device
(If you have never soaked a bucket of beet pulp, please visit THIS LINK before reading further on this post.  Ladies of a certain age are cautioned to urinate before reading the Famous Squirrel Story).

When discussing beet pulp feed on public forums, it seems there's always some well-intentioned but mis-informed person who bleats out some old and bad "research" that "proves" how horribly dangerous beet pulp (especially dry, unsoaked beet pulp) is as an animal feed, and how it soaks up water from the horse's intestines until the horse explodes.  Proper research has disproved this.  Beet pulp can be fed dry, but soaked beet pulp is better if hydration is an issue for the horse.

Beet pulp by itself is not a cause of choke; however, if your  horse is prone to choking on other feeds, by all means heavily soak your beet pulp, serve it in small amounts, and consider adding some two-fist-sized rocks to the horse's feed pan to keep him from gulping his food.  

Soaking beet pulp isn't a complicated process:  
  • take a SMALL amount of pellets, 
  • add a LARGE amount of water.  
  • Then, stand back.  

8 cups of beet pulp pellets, soaked in 2.5 gallons of water for an hour.
Looks like the stuff inside the pencil sharpener.

The feed should expand enormously and reach the consistency of soft pencil-shavings in 30-60 minutes.   

I generally mix up the morning ration of beet pulp and water at night, as soon as I finish feeding the animals their dinner.  For the evening ration, I throw it all together in the covered plastic bucket as soon as I've fed breakfast.  

I *do* cover the feed while it soaks to keep vermin out.  At the barn where I boarded in past years, beet pulp was soaked without a cover, and the barn rats were enormously fat.  (So were the barn floofs consider beet pulp a   rare delicacy!)

In a warm climate, I would probably mix up the beet pulp closer to mealtime to avoid it going "sour."  That's rarely a problem here.  Alternately, you might mix up batches in ziplock baggies and stash them in a refrigerator for barn staff to feed, if you are in a boarding situation...has anyone done this?  I often mix beet pulp inside a gallon-sized ziplock bag to send to vetchecks during a competition, so that part works fine.  

As with all new feeds, add beet pulp to the diet gradually, in small amounts.  A half-cup to a cup of dry pellets plus water could be fed once each day for a week.  Increase the quantity slowly.  

Pro tip from Hana:  Throw in a carrot or two to encourage your horse to explore the new feed all the way to the bottom of the pan! 


  1. "If your horse turns up his nose..." - Or just persist. Dixie insisted that she couldn't bear to sully her lips with that disgusting glop until she realized it was disgusting glop or nothing. (Nothing except stupid boring hay, that is.) Now she loves it.

  2. My vey own beet pulp tutorial! What a friend. Thank you, thank you!! Definitely going to try this, and will keep you posted. Hudson is a great water drinker, so I think it will be safe to expose him to a small amount in with his regular pellets, which I dampen anyway, for dust, and in case THIS is the only time in his life he decides to wolf his Happy Meal.

    Thanks for including Fee's stats. It gives me a rough outline that he will likely end up on a similar amount: Hudson is 16 hh and 1100 lbs, with that same drive to USE his engine,

    Love the idea of presoaking and bagging in fridge. The more convenient for th e barn manager the better.It's one thing to research a potential feed and a whole different ball game to hear how someone you trust uses it in their program. It's much more reassuring.

    Can't wait to try it, and see if we can get his tummy in A-1 shape. Thanks!

    1. keep us posted please Jane!

      I had another thought about making things easy(easier) for your barn manager without making things unduly complicated for you:

      Measure out dry beet pulp into big ziplocks. When it's feeding time, add water and zip the bag closed. Do everything else FIRST, then dump the now-soaked beetpulp into Hudson's bucket. If his regular pellets are getting damped anyhow, it shouldn't be too difficult!

      Fingers are crossed for you. And dang, it's hard to type like that.

  3. I love this, reminds me of all the fun times I've had convincing people that beet pulp really is as good as it's purported to be. When I worked as a groom at a Dales Pony/Fjord horse breeding and training farm, with roughly 30+ ponies every winter, myself and the other grooms would mix up a batch after feeding breakfast and dinner for the next meal-we'd use a 10 gallon round watering tub, and we used it as the base of the ponies grain to keep them fat and happy through the awful Vermont winters. Same reasons we fed it to our team of Belgians every winter, once a day-easy to disguise medicines and supplements, and a perfect way to keep a good winter weight on our old guy!

  4. I heartily endorse beet pulp! It was the only thing my old guy would eat when he had stomach ulcers... And my mare loves it too!

    I board and I use the shredded stuff - mix up the dry beet pulp, some supplements and put it in a big ziploc bag. Barn staff soak it while they are preparing the other grain and voila! The shreddies seem to only need about 15-20 mins max to soak, so they are great at a boarding barn.

    They used to use regular beet pulp, but would never cover it. *sigh* Lots of mice and raccoons were enjoying that snack!

  5. Beet pulp is great stuff, although messy to handle. We had an old horse at our barn who had almost no teeth left, who subsisted on 6 cups (dry) soaked beet pulp shreds AM and PM, along with a complete senior feed which was soaked right along with the beet pulp. He otherwise couldn't eat hay, although he could nibble grass a bit, and held his weight well on that regimen.

  6. We have two senior 'mush men' at our barn. They don't have many teeth between the two of them. They both get a mush morning and night of beet pulp, timothy pellets and senior feed, soaked. We can also hide their supplements in there. It's great to see their faces with mush up to their eyebrows and their happy, fat, geriatric bodies. They do get a little hay, although that is more for show. Beet pulp is great!

  7. Beet pulp is the greatest thing since sliced bread! I used it heavily this winter to keep weight on an older horse, and I love it for the endurance horses because of all the water it holds, especially during rides.
    I don't understand the people who are so fanatically anti-beet pulp... i can't figure out where their hysteria comes from.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  8. Holy cow... loved the squirrel story. I was crying I was laughing so hard.

    (I love beet pulp, too... too bad Flash isn't on board)


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