We all love our horses and want to do our best for them, and everywhere we have it drummed into us that optimum digestive health is the key to everything! If their digestive system isn’t in tip top health their coat won’t shine, their hooves are likely to be in poor condition and issues such as weight loss, loose droppings and problems such as laminitis, gastric ulcers and even colic are possible.

Back to Basics

Horses have evolved to continuously roam over vast areas and graze, or ‘trickle feed’ for 16 – 18 hours per day. Despite the fact that our equines today are kept in relative luxury in comparison to their ancestors their digestive system is still similar, meaning that the horse still needs this trickle feed supply of nutrients to remain in optimum health.

The digestive system starts with the mouth and licking enhances saliva production which helps to buffer stomach acidity and this can help reduce the risk of stomach ulcers. The horse’s stomach is the size of a rugby ball and is where the digestion of starch and sugar commences to be completed in the small intestine, but it is the hindgut where the main focus for the horse should be. Two thirds of the equine digestive system is in the hindgut, or the caecum and large intestine, and this is where the fermentation of fibre takes place by micro-organisms and beneficial bacteria.

When the hindgut is healthy and the horse is trickle fed ample amounts of good quality forage, plus a balanced diet, the hindgut will provide the horse with warmth from the effects of the fibre digestion, and a range of B vitamins which ensure that the horse’s skin and coat are healthy and his hooves are in good condition.

Unfortunately modern feeding practices are unlikely to follow this trickle feeding pattern. More typically they provide large irregular meals based on cereals with restricted access to forages, and in certain circumstances long periods of time with no forages available.

This can result in problems directly affecting the digestive system such as colic, digestive upsets such as loose droppings and gastric ulcers, but can be much wider ranging and include laminitis and EMS, stress, poor performance and even stereotypies.

Forage First!

To improve the digestive health of our equines the first place to look at is forage. It’s the most important element of their diet and forage types include grass, hay, haylage, straw and short chop fibres. Basing the equine diet on forage, at a minimum of 1.5% of bodyweight, to provide the optimum amount of fibre and providing vitamins, minerals and trace elements to balance the diet with extra calories provided only when needed, should result in a happier, healthier horse.

What else?

Apart from providing horses with sufficient forage, owners can offer products that enhance saliva production such as Horslyx and offer products containing ingredients that can be beneficial in terms of gut health such as Horslyx Pro Digest. The most common choices of supplements to support digestive health include mucilage, or soluble fibre, prebiotics and probiotics.

Mucilage, or soluble fibre, absorbs moisture within the stomach and can form a protective layer reducing the effect of excess acid on the stomach wall which may be beneficial in terms of gastric ulcers.

Prebiotics are fed to promote good bacteria within the hindgut or to provide stimulation of the hosts immune function.

Probiotics are live yeasts based upon saccharomyces cerevisiae. They pass through the stomach and small intestine and then are functional within the hindgut.

Looking for products which contain a blend of these ingredients can be beneficial to those horses suffering from digestive issues.