One such problem is ulcers. Studies have shown that 60% of horses suffer from ulcers. A horse that is fed twice a day and stands in the stall all day long without any food is at high risk for developing ulcers. The symptoms of ulcers can vary and usually show as being girthy, picky eaters, nervousness, tucked up gut, back soreness, sensitivity to being groomed, mouthy, biting, hind end lameness, pinning of the ears when being saddled, loose or watery stools, hard keepers, pain and weight loss.
The health of the stomach and hind gut is crucial to your horse's health and soundness. Training issues may be caused from a horse that is in pain as a result of ulcers. Stress is a contributing factor and when a horse travels from barn to barn for shows, is relocated, or pressured to perform, or even losing a horse buddy causes distress and therefore puts your horse more at risk for developing ulcers. Environmental factors play a big role in the health of your horse's digestive system. Nervous horses are at highest risk of developing ulcers.
Ulcers occur in the stomach and the hind gut. The hind gut is often overlooked. It consists of the cecum and the colon and is vital to the health of the digestive system. Horses are hind gut fermenters. What this means is most of its energy and nutrients are obtained by the fermenting process in the hind gut.
Extensive research has been done to confirm that ulcers of the hind gut do exist. How does a horse get hind gut ulcers? The most common cause is the use of NSAIDs like the common anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone, or Bute. NSAIDs work to reduce pain and inflammation by blocking certain chemicals called prostaglandins. Damaged tissue and healthy tissue both have prostaglandins and NSAIDs do not differentiate. The healthy tissues of the hind gut are responsible for the mucus production and blood flow, when the prostaglandins are blocked by the use of bute, ulcers develop in the right dorsal colon due the destruction of the mucus lining of the intestinal tract. A horse with ulcers in the right dorsal colon will be more sensitive on the right side below or around the loins and flank area and can exhibit an off beat with the right hind leg. Medications such as NSAIDs, antibiotics, wormers and other prescribed medicines can interrupt the natural friendly microbial population of the hind gut and create a myriad of digestive upsets including ulcers.
Hindgut Acidosis can cause hind gut ulcers. The overload of starch and sugar and processed feeds in the modern equine diet causes the bacteria to produce lactic acid. This raises the acidity of the hind gut by lowering the pH. This condition allows the bad bacteria to multiply leading to ulcers. Hindgut acidosis is caused by modern feeding practices and can be prevented by eliminating sweet feeds and other processed grains from the diet.
Parasites are another cause of ulcers although with a good worming program this is not usually a problem. Using natural wormers such as Wormcheck and getting fecal counts on a regular basis so you do not overworm is a good practice.
Exercising a horse on an empty stomach can also contribute to gastric ulcers. It has been discovered that during exercise the stomach acids will splash onto the upper 1/3 of the stomach which causes irritation and can cause ulcers. Your horse should never be ridden on an empty stomach. Give them a handful of cubes or pellets before tacking up. It absorbs the acids and makes your horse more willing to work.
There are many products on the market today to help prevent or heal ulcers. Most of them address gastric ulcers which are of the stomach. Colonic or hind gut ulcers are equally as important. I have used just about every product out there in regards to digestive health. Most of them did nothing. There are some that worked with great results. Some the things I found that work well are listed below.
1. Oat Bran or Oat Flour. Feed 1/2 cup of oat bran or oat flour mixing it with some pellets and adding water. The oat bran coats and heals the hind gut and provides beta glucans which support the immune system. This can be given before riding.
2. Cabbage powder. 1/2 tablespoon 2 - 3 times a day. Cabbage is high in the amino acid L-Glutamine. This amino acid has been proven to heal the lining of the stomach and intestinal tract.
3. Pumpkin Seeds. Feed 2 ounces a day. These little miraculous seeds are high in nitric oxide which is what the body needs to heal and repair anything that needs to be healed. They have anti-inflammatory properties and are useful with arthritis and other joint discomforts. They are high in minerals that help to increase bone density. They support the immune system and are an anti-parasitic.
4. Fenugreek seed powder. 1/2 tablespoon twice a day. Fenugreek improves digestion, reduces inflammation, lowers blood glucose levels making it good for diabetic conditions, soothes and heals the intestinal tract and has cardiovascular benefits.
5. Hemp Seed Oil. 1/2 to 1 ounce daily. Hemp seed Oil is a source of both LA (Omega 6) and LNA (Omega 3) essential fatty acids and essential amino acids in balanced proportions. Benefits include increased stamina, speeds healing, calmness, reduces inflammation, enhances immune functions, reduces the pain and swelling of arthritis, improve concentration and increases the availability of nutrients.
6. Braggs Raw Apple Cider Vinegar. 2 ounces daily. Raw unpasturized apple cider vinegar is high in enzymes which help to flush toxins from the body. Enzymes are responsible for all cellular functions. Apple cider vinegar promotes healthy joints, boosts the immune system, helps dissolve calcium deposits, improves urinary tract health, stimulates proper digestion, helps the horse improve resistance to parasites. It must be raw and unpasturized to get the benefits.
7. Probiotics. Fed according to manufacturer directions. These are extremely important to maintain the proper intestinal flora. Should be used after any type of stress or medications, including worming. It is safe to use on a daily basis. Probiotics help populate the friendly microflora to support a healthy digestive system and immune system. There are many on the market. The best ones I have found are Advanced Biological Concepts Pro-bi and ABC, Earthsong Ranch, Vitaflex Micro Balance, Bio Mos and Yea-Sacc from Oak Creek services
8. Rapid Response. This product is packed full of glyconutrients, is fast acting and works extremely well. Contains Anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, glucosamines and glyconutrients. Speeds recovery of injuries, excellent for joint pain, arthritis, ulcers, and more. Recommended by veterinarians to provide advanced nutritional support for the special dietary needs of animals in maintaining the health of skeletal structure, tendons and soft tissues particularly following trauma induced injuries. Visit website
9. Herbal blends such as Ulcerase from Advanced Biological concepts.
10. Chamomile. This herb aids digestion, is calming to the digestive system and soothes the intestinal lining. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
11. Succeed Digestive Conditioning program. This program works very extremely well. It is well worth it.
12. Lecithin granules. Lecithin is derived from soy and is a naturally occurring group of phospholipids that's found in nearly every living cell. Research has shown that lecithin cures equine gastric ulcers. It does this by making the stomach lining stronger at the cellular membrane level and enhances the rest of the digestive system as well.
13. Apple Pectin. Pectin is a fiber found in all plant cell walls and tissue. Apples contain a high amount of pectin providing a soluble fiber which means it can disperse or spread in water . It's use as natural remedy for digestive disorders is well documented. The latest research indicates that when given with Lecithin acts to stabilize the lecithin making it more effective. It is recommended to give 1/2 cup of lecithin granules with 1 tablespoon of apple pectin for best results. There is a product called Starting Gate that offers stabilized lecithin in this form.
To keep your horse healthy, sound and free of ulcers the correct feeding program is of utmost importance. A horse who has gastric ulcers will not eat that well despite being give hay 24/7. This is because their stomach hurts. You must first address the ulcers and then your horse will enjoy eating and you will find they will not be as finicky. If your horse is stabled and does not have access to pastures, good quality grass hays should be available for them all day long. A small amount of alfalfa is acceptable because it is higher in calcium. The calcium helps absorb the excess acids. It doesn't matter whether your horse has ulcers or is ulcer prone, they should have access to free choice hay all day.
If you treat the symptom without making dietary changes by giving antacids this disturbs the natural digestive process and actually causes the stomach to produce more acid. You get results, it appears that your horse is better but in a few weeks or even a few days, the symptoms return again. You treat again and the cycle continues on. It is important to heal the stomach and/or hind gut ulcers for a complete and healthy recovery.