In their natural state, horses are constantly grazing and their digestive system is continuously processing forage, breaking it down into nutrients that are then absorbed. This efficient engine fuels every action within the body, from basic functions like taking a breath, to complex actions like powering over a Grand Prix fence.
It’s easy to see that proper digestion is essential to your horse’s overall wellbeing. Unfortunately, modern horse-keeping often puts us at odds with Mother Nature. These days, most horses are confined to their stalls or small turnouts. Instead of constant access to fresh pasture, most diets consist of high concentrations of commercial feeds, usually fed twice a day. In addition to an unnatural feeding regimen, the stress of training, travel and competition can increase your horse’s risk for developing a wide range of digestive problems, from gastric ulcers to diarrhea and colic.
The good news is there is a lot you can do to help. You can make management changes to better mimic Mother Nature, and you can support your horse by providing targeted supplements for gastric and digestive health.
Gastric Health Supplements
Consider one of these supplements as part of an effective gastric health program.
An astonishing 60% of performance horses suffer from gastric ulcers. This painful condition can affect your horse’s appetite and digestive function, leading to weight loss, an unthrifty appearance, decreased performance, a poor attitude and even colic.
The only way to diagnose an ulcer is through an endoscopy, and the only way to heal an active ulcer is with prescription medication, like GastroGard (#10629, $38.50). For this reason, if you suspect your horse has an ulcer, there is no substitute for a veterinary consultation.
If your horse is currently healthy, consider optimizing his dietary program to avoid future problems. Constant access to fresh pasture is best, but can be difficult to come by, so consider providing free-choice grass hay as the basis of your horse’s diet. Alfalfa hay has been shown to help in the management of gastric ulcers, but should not be fed free choice. Feed the minimum amount of grain necessary to meet your horse’s energy requirements, and always feed several small meals, rather than fewer, larger ones.
Finally, consider a gastric support supplement to maintain your horse’s stomach health. Look for antacids to safeguard the stomach, amino acids to support a healthy lining, and/or herbs to provide soothing relief.
No Guts, No Glory
Digestive Health Supplements
Consider one these supplements as part of an effective digestive health program.
If your horse has loose, watery stools, excessive gas or recurrent digestive upset, his hindgut may not be functioning properly. The hindgut is composed of both the small and large intestines, the primary sites of digestion. The small intestine is responsible for nutrient absorption and water reabsorption. The large intestine is home to beneficial bacteria that are responsible for the digestion of hay and grass through a process called fermentation. Keep these “good bugs” happy by providing your horse plenty of access to high-quality forage and keeping his grain intake to a minimum.
You can help ensure your horse has a healthy hindgut by providing a supplement with ingredients that support both the small and large intestine. Digestive enzymes help break down nutrients, supporting feed utilization and nutrient absorption. Probiotics, live beneficial bacteria, are a popular component of many digestive supplements, and support a thriving bacterial population in the gut. Prebiotics are sources of non- digestible fiber and serve as a food source for the beneficial bacteria, keeping them healthy.
Keep in mind, even healthy horses can benefit from digestive support, especially those undergoing feed changes, horses on antibiotics, and those under stress from training or travel.