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Foregut or Hindgut? That’s The Question – Part 1


Knowing what sort of support your horse needs can be tough, but it can also make a big difference.

We know there’s a lot of confusion between your horse’s foregut health and hindgut health. After all, the process of breaking down food and absorbing nutrients is all technically “digestion,” so isn’t it all the same? Not quite. The organs in the foregut and hindgut have very different functions, and each area has unique health concerns. An unhealthy stomach is at risk for gastric ulcers, while an unhealthy hindgut is at risk for colic and other digestive upset. As if all that’s not complicated enough, colic is not only the primary problem in the hindgut, it’s also a general term for abdominal pain, which means mild, recurrent colic can also be a sign of gastric ulcers. However, for the purposes of this article, when we say colic*, we’re referring to problems (gas, impaction, twists, etc.) in the organs that make up the hindgut. Confused? Have no fear—SmartPak’s here to help! In Part 1 & Part 2 of this blog, we’ll look at each condition in greater detail, and identify ways you can help support your horse.


Can one small organ really make such a big difference in your horse’s health? Turns out, it can! Luckily, we’re here to help with smart ways you can provide your horse with the ultimate gastric health support.

The word “gastric” means “of or pertaining to the stomach,” so gastric health focuses entirely on one organ —the stomach. While your horse’s stomach is relatively small, accounting for less than 10% of his total digestive capacity, it can cause some pretty big problems, including gastric ulcers.

Over 60% of performance horses suffer from gastric ulcers, a painful condition that can cause decreased performance, weight loss, and more. Luckily, there are ways you can treat and prevent ulcers and maintain overall gastric health.

Your horse’s body was designed for constant grazing (about 10-17 hours per day), which means the stomach is almost never empty. However, modern horsekeeping makes that tough to achieve. Often, a horse’s diet is composed of infrequent meals of hay and grain, with most of the day spent with an empty stomach. This leaves your horse’s sensitive stomach lining exposed to harsh gastric acids, which can cause gastric ulcers. Add to the mix that stress from training, travel, competition, and more can also contribute to ulcers, and you’ve got a recipe for an unhappy stomach.

The only way to accurately diagnose an ulcer is with an endoscopic exam performed by your veterinarian. However, there are some warning signs that you can watch out for, including:

  • Reluctance to eat or drink
  • Worsening attitude
  • Less-than-optimal performance
  • Dull hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation at feeding time
  • Mild, recurrent abdominal pain

If your horse has been diagnosed with gastric ulcers, you should work with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan, which may include an FDA-approved prescription medication.

Supporting a healthy stomach
The risk factors for occasional gastric upset include training, traveling, competing, or infrequent hay feedings. If your horse is exposed to any of these factors, a combination daily support from a supplement and smart management can help ensure he has what he needs for a healthy stomach. Look for supplements that provide ingredients like calcium and magnesium to help neutralize gastric acid, as well as glutamine, glycine, and soothing herbs to support healthy stomach lining.

When building your horse’s gastric maintenance plan, you also want to consider his diet and other management strategies. When it comes to your horse’s diet, focus on hay and other forage, ideally allowing your horse pasture grazing or free choice access to hay 24/7. Because large grain meals have been identified as a risk factor for gastric upset, add only the minimum amount of grain (if any) your horse needs to maintain weight and performance. Other management tips to consider include increasing turnout time, limiting the use of NSAIDs (such as bute), and making any changes to his routine or workload as gradually as possible.

Now that we’ve covered “gastro,” let’s move on to the “intestinal” part of the gastrointestinal tract.


Read Part 2 of this blog series, in which we talk all about colic & digestive health.

Posted in Health & Nutrition

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7 comments on “Foregut or Hindgut? That’s The Question – Part 1
  1. Jodi R says:

    Although I already know most of this and have battled both ulcers and colic in one of my show horses, this is wonderful information that can’t be passed around enough! Thank you for making this easily accessible to all of us! Great info to keep handy!

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Jodi, you ROCK! Thanks for reading our blog and for sharing your awesome feedback. Helping riders like you take great care of your horses is the #1 mission of every SmartPaker, so I shared your kudos with the whole company 🙂
      I hope your horses remain happy and healthy (sounds like they’re lucky to have such a great mom!). If there’s ever anything we can do to help you take great care of them, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
      Thanks again, and have a great ride! – SmartPaker Sarah

  2. Melanie O'Shea-Chaparro says:

    This info came at a great time! One of my horses just finished a 30 day course of Gastrogard last week. Today I noticed him exhibiting some of the same behaviors that led us to get him scoped in the first place. I was looking for a good maintenance plan and it sounds like you have just the thing. Thank you!

  3. Eve R Mead says:

    “Stormy” has been with Us since 8mo.@is now 6..she is an Arab/BlueRoanTobiano Paint. She has been on SPk maintaince since Her Purchase. She is in great shape@for last month.has live in a Herd of 36 @ Pasture contained@lives naturally. She is on EZmag,SmartCombo,BuggOff…She is Beautiful….Thank U SmPak.!

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Eve, it’s great to hear that Stormy is doing so well! Thanks for letting us help you keep her happy, healthy, and beautiful! – SmartPaker Sarah

  4. Carissa Nickols says:

    I can attest that this plan does work! I have a mare that started to colic for no apparent reason. The episodes became more and more frequent and sometimes would occur more than once in a weeks time. I had never treated a horse for ulcers as I’ve never had to deal with this issue. As the colics became increasingly more frequent, I noticed that she started dropping weight and had a very dull, dry coat. The colics were strange in that she would still drink and poop as normal but her poop would be very loose and she would lay down a lot, stretch as if trying to urinate, very lethargic and would actually burp. I took her to the vet and had blood work done which all came back normal. I then made sure that my worming program was up to par. Lastly, I treated her with a daily dose of Ulcergaard for 2 months. I then read an article that SmartPak put out based on the fact that after you quit dosing with Ulcergaard the stomach can have a rebound effect with a higher production of gastric acid and the article recommended the Smart Gut pellets. I can say that she has been on the Smart Gut pellets for 10 months now. We have not had any episodes of colic and her coat looks AMAZING!! She has gained all her weight back and has a great body score. I keep a few tubes of Ulcergaard on hand and if I know I’m going to be traveling I will give the maintenance dose the day before, the day of, and the day after. Although the initial treatment of Ulcergaard is expensive- it is WELL worth it!!! I also have her on a regular worming program and have her teeth done on a regular basis. Although these might seem like mute points to some, I can attest that they all go hand in hand and are VERY important to the horses overall health!

  5. Julia says:

    I thought my horse had mild colic but now am wondering if he has ulcers. He won’t let anyone touch his rear underbelly without squealing. He keeps turning around to nibble on his rear toes. He looks a little tucked up. I didn’t think it was a bad case of colic as he was still eating pooing and walking around (although was swishing his tail a lot). I gave him a mild salt flush (ie syringes two cupfuls of salty water into him with some Bute) and he came better. The next day I noticed bumps and thought… Oh, so he was bitten (aesthetes been lots of wild wasps around) so I gave him antihistamines, but he’s still quite tender around his rear lower belly cage. Most gets are pretty ordinary around mild colic and will recommend buscapan or will give an injection. Prior to getting to that point, I’m interested in your thoughts?

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