Saturday, October 13, 2007

Your Horse And Colic, Why Its So Common


Your Horse And Colic, Why Its So Common By J. Foley

Horses evolved on a different diet from the one they’re expected to eat today. The manner in which horses eat and the time they spend eating has changed considerably – even a horse living on grass eats a different diet from his ancestors. Unfortunately for the domesticated horse, his intestines have not evolved to meet these changes and, as a consequence, he is susceptible to digestive upset.

A horse’s digestion involves fermentation of which a by-product is gas, which can easily distend the gut causing problems. Horses cannot vomit to get rid of toxins, or
indigestible food. The gut has a large absorptive area (needed because the animal is a herbivore) which leaves the horse susceptible to toxins being absorbed quickly.

Also, natural feeding habits mean that nature designed the horse to be on the move, grazing on the way. This is known as “trickle feeding” whereby the horse eats large quantities of low-energy food throughout the day, typically spending 16 hours a day feeding.

Today’s management of horses often indicates two feeds a day of hard feed, rationed hay and stabling for eight hours without exercise or food. This is obviously very different to the life the horse was designed to lead. This change from the natural and ideal situation means that horses can react to any added stress on their lifestyle, which is often the cause of colic.

Risk factors

• Digestive disorder such as tooth problems, worm burdens and gut damage (including
previous colic surgery)

• Poor feeding regime: soiled food, inappropriate quantities, lack of fibre and/or water, or a sudden change in diet

• Stress such as hard exercise while unfit or after eating, travelling, sudden change of routine or environment

• Poor and over-grazed pasture, especially if the soil is sandy


• A constant supply of fresh water

• Small and frequent feeds of concentrates if necessary. Only use hard feed as a supplement to the grazing and high fibre food available to the horse.

• Plan a diet consisting of high fibre content, using hay or other high fibre equivalent feeds. A ratio of at least 60 per cent hay or equivalent.

• Ensure the feed is of good quality and is not moldy, and has no hidden hazards such as baling twine/plastic

• Set a regular exercise programme, ensuring that the horse is fit for the work needed. Do not suddenly over exert your horse.

• Have a post-exercise cooling off period

• Make any changes to exercise or feed slowly

• Allow as much turn out in a paddock as possible

• Have regular dental checks as poorly chewed food increases the risk of a blockage in the intestine

• Do not overgraze pasture

• Ration lush spring grass, treating it as a change of diet to the horse

• Wherever possible, avoid your horse grazing heavily sanded pasture

• Ensure the worm control program is kept up to date as recommended by your vet

• Have a regular daily routine and make changes gradually

Helpful hints

Early detection of colic will improve the chances of a successful outcome so know your horse’s signs of good health. Be aware of temperature, pulse rate and respiratory rate.

Be especially vigilant with any horse that has a history of colic.

Article Written By J. Foley