Digestive Health


Ensuring your horse’s digestive health is in peak condition is of paramount importance for their wellbeing. If the horse’s digestive system is compromised in any way it will have significant effects on performance, appearance and even temperament. The concerns are not only what they are being fed, but environment, well-being and good husbandry, which can all play a significant role in ensuring good digestive health.

Digestion starts with mastication (chewing) and the production of saliva, unlike humans horses only produce saliva when they chew and this acts as a buffer against the acid build up in the stomach which can cause ulcers. Horses are more able to digest food and increase nutrient absorption when it is ground into small pieces, it is also less likely to get stuck and cause colic, an important reason why your horse should receive regular visits from the dentist. The food then moves to the stomach which is quite small, and is where the pre-digestion of proteins and fats occur. Food is held here for approximately 30-45 minutes, which is why it is advisable to not exercise your horse for at least an hour after they have been fed. Food then moves to the small intestine, which is where the majority of nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream and the largest portion of the food is digested.

One of the problems of feeding large quantities of processed feed is excess starch going through the intestines too quickly to be digested properly. Make sure your feed is low in starch and is fed in small quantities; horses evolved as trickle feeders and their digestive system is not designed to eat two hard feeds a day! Undigested starch reaching the hindgut can cause the starch digesting bacteria to produce lactic acid; this kills the beneficial bacteria and toxins that are then produced can cause colic and laminitis.

Horses digestive systems are highly sensitive and can react very quickly if they are unbalanced or stressed, this is why your horse can go from having completely normal droppings to very loose dropping when they realise they are going on the horsebox, or something exciting is happening. The release of adrenalin and stress hormones diverts blood away from the digestive tract and this can compromise the balance of bacteria in the gut.

Digestive upsets can appear in many forms, and some need veterinary advice to be diagnosed. Early diagnosis can be highly beneficial in the treatment and further prevention of any problems. Symptoms to look out for are a dull coat or general ‘lack lustre’, weight loss, lack of interest in feed or general discomfort. Many symptoms are visible when riding, i.e. lethargy, irritability and reluctance to bend, and in severe cases can even turn into bucking, rearing and napping.

Feeding a high quality feed balancer is the easiest way to ensure that your horse’s digestive health is taken care of on a daily basis. Because feed balancers are fed in small quantities, usually 100grams per 100kilograms of bodyweight and are ideal fed with just a fibre diet, less hard feed may be needed, so your horse’s digestive system won’t have to cope with large amounts of feed. Make sure that the feed balancer you use is low in sugar and starch and includes beneficial ingredients at the recommended level to help digestion such as nucleotides and an EU approved probiotic.

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