With the changing of the seasons and horses spending more time in the stables, it’s time to remember all the ways in which we can help keep a horse’s digestive system health.
Water is critical: Providing horses with clean fresh water is essential as it is involved in most of the reactions that break down food. Without it, the process of breaking down food and digestion can be compromised. It also helps the passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract. Horses that don’t have access to water for long periods of time can be at increased risk of developing colic.
Feeding frequency: A horse’s stomach is relatively small. And as such horses can only digest a small amount of starch at any one time. Excess starch that escapes digestion will overflow into the hindgut, which can affect the microbial balance. It mimics a natural feeding pattern ensuring a constant passage of food through the digestive system.
Feeding for workload: The key to feeding is to make sure a horse has adequate food for the work they are doing. Too much or too little will create upset and result in a horse being over or underweight.
Keeping to a routine: Horses are creatures of habit. Making any changes could increase stress levels. In turn this will have a negative impact on their digestive system.
Feeding enough fibre: A horse’s diet should be made up of at least 60% fibre. If insufficient fibre reaches the hindgut it upsets the microbial ecosystem. Fibre in the form of grass or hay is vital to a healthy, efficient digestive system.
Changes should be introduced gradually: If you are thinking of changing your horses feed, this needs to be done gradually. Bacteria in the large intestines need time to adapt to any changes. So new feed should be added in little by little with a horses existing food as it lessens the risk of upsetting the digestive system.
Think about the quality: The quality of forage eliminates exposure to mycotoxins, which are produced by certain moulds commonly found in forage and bedding. So it is important to check the quality of the forage you are feeding, particularly during the winter months when a horse spends more time in its stable. Ensuring a horse has enough forage is equally important as it ensures the digestive system is adequately filled just as much as if the horse was in the wild.
Access to grass: Whilst it is not always possible, providing a horse with access to pasture turnout keeps a horse’s digestive system functioning well.
Keep everything clean: It goes without saying that keeping a horses feed buckets, water buckets and feed bins clean is crucial. Horses are picky and dirty feed could deter them from feeding.