Author: Jayne Roberts

07 January 2015 To harrow or not to harrow…

A harrow is one of the tools of ‘good pasture management’ that just about every traditional land management resource recommends.  Yet very few of us know when to use it, or why we’re even using it in the first place.

A good pasture is what we should all be striving for.  Properly managed, it can provide our horses with a sustainable, welfare-friendly, attractive home that meets their critical behavioural needs…which are {microphone to the audience} Forage, Friendship, Freedom!  Woo hoo you got it!

Oh, and an ideal complete diet..bonus!!!  Now you’re talking my kinda horse feeding and housing!

But, before you go on a pasture management neglect guilt trip, let’s first consider if it’s the best thing to be using on your pastures, and what your alternatives may be.

Trot on over to the tool shed with me and we’ll get kitted out with the why what and how of harrowing.

Read more …

08 October 2014 Recurrent colic – risk factors identified

Colic instills fear into the heart of horse-owners worldwide, and so it should. Despite all that we know regarding prevention and treatment, it still remains the number 1 killer of horses.

While a number of management factors have been repeatedly implicated in increased risk of colic, there is little information as to how these risk factors affect the risk of recurrent colic.

Researchers in the UK recently investigated factors that placed the horse at greater risk of recurrent colic bouts (in this study, defined as a second bout of colic within 48 hours of the first colic being resolved).  In particular, they identified that increasing the amount of time spent at pasture decreased the risk of recurrent colic.

This supports findings reported  in previous studies and likely reflects the combined benefit of grazing, hanging out with friends in a more natural environment, and moving around…i.e. Forage, Friendship, Freedom.

Read more …

09 August 2014 Can my horse eat Kale?

So, my wholesome herd of well-fed fillies, you know a superfood when you see one…just in case you don’t I’ve included a pic of a fresh bunch I picked up from the markets this morning!

Fresh bunch of Kale from out local markets - yum, get in my tum!

Fresh bunch of Kale from out local markets – yum, get in my tum!

I’m all about adding forage vitality and variety to our own and our horses’ diets, and I often get asked if ‘human’ foods are also appropriate to feed to our horses.  For the most part, horses can eat just about anything we do (they’ve even been documented as eating meat and fish…I know, I was shocked too!) BUT it doesn’t mean to say they always should!

Kale belongs to the ‘cruciferous’ family of vegetables, along with things such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, Brussel sprouts, to name a few (oh how I LOVE Brussels!).  It’s low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol (not a big deal for the horse).  It’s a good source of Dietary Fibre, Protein, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. 

Read more …

26 July 2014 The most common missing nutrient in your horse’s diet

We all want to do the best for our horses, and feeding is no exception.

We go to great lengths and expense to carefully construct our horse’s meal plan…striving to balance a diet that in reality, only the horse holds the key to.

The feeding and supplement industry is a multi-million dollar global industry, yet the health and well-being of our horses continues to spiral downwards, and we’re battling an epidemic of overfed-undernourished horses.

Despite all of our advances in feeding technology and nutrition research, we’re still overlooking the most fundamental ‘nutrient’ in our horses diet, and I’m going to share with you what I believe that is.

But first, let’s talk monkey business!

Read more …

24 July 2014 10 things you may not know about me…that I’m prepared to admit in public!

redhills profile pic

Things have been a bit stuffy around here lately so let’s freshen the air with a few things you may not know about me!

  1. My colleagues refer to me as Research Roberts – me and the research archives have a thang going on!
  2. I was an Equine Vet tech for 10 years, wrestling rednecks and rattlesnakes in the hot & humid swamps of South Georgia.  My souvenirs include a prized rattlesnake skin and a preserved 3 month old foetus, named Mr. Pickles!
  3. I am a down-to earth, practical mare that you really want around in a crisis.  I have been known to smoothly negotiate a bottle of triple-drip anesthesia, a surgically prepped testicle, and a gorked out horse…while grown men dropped like flies.  Where there’s a will there’s a way.
  4. I’m always up for a challenge (see point 3).  Taking on motherhood and a Masters thesis has to rank on up there as one of the toughest.  Never did I think changing diapers would make for a welcome break from research!
  5. I am officially a science geek and proud as punch I had my equine nutrition research published in one of the one of the most highly regarded academic equine vet journals.
  6. In reference to point 5, I’m not comfortable with claiming bragging rights, but apparently ‘It ain’t bragging if you done it.”
  7. My most favorite place on this earth is Cape Town.  If I ever go MIA check Table Mountain or a fine winery in the Stellenbosch region.  Come join me for a glass bottle!
  8. I abhor the practice of trimming horse whiskers.  You wouldn’t chop your child’s fingers off because they looked messy….why in the hell would you remove such critical structures off your horse’s face???   SERIOUSLY!
  9. My favorite bit of horse equipment is my Kieffer Ulla Salzgeber Rusty dressage saddle.  Diamonds don’t come anywhere close.
  10. I believe we should not be feeding (or eating) foods that began the process of digestion in the feed mill. Period.
  11. I have a strange and, some might say, twisted fascination with pus.  Horses tend to be really good at making it. I’ve expressed and expunged a lot over the years…including off my bare legs.  I find this to be a really interesting topic of conversation at dinner parties.
  12. I have always been a nutrition nerd, and technically I am an Equine Nutritionist.  However, that’s only a small part of what I do to keep our horses happy and healthy.  I also enjoy helping to keep their humans happy and healthy too!
  13. Yes, it was supposed to only be 10 things but I have always had a problem sticking to word counts!

What about you?  What quirky things would you like to share?  Add them to the comments section below; I’d love to know more about you!



23 February 2014 What came first, the hay or the grain…

“Feed hay before grain (pellets/course mix/concentrate/hard feed)”

I often hear people say that hay should be fed before grain…it’s one of those ingrained (no pun intended) misconceptions that continues to be a source of much frustration.  So when an article by Dr. Martin Adams, PAS Equine Nutritionist for Southern States popped into my inbox, talking about the very subject, I thought it was a good time to jump on it for a Monday Myth blast!

So what reason do people give for hay before grain?

1)  “It helps to slow down the horse’s eating rate so he does not to bolt his feed and choke.”

2)  “Feeding hay first slows down digestion rate and prevents the hind gut from becoming overloaded by starch”

However, as Dr Adams notes neither of these objectives is reached with this practice.

Despite what you may have been led to believe, horses are smart, and when it comes to such a highly motivated behavior i.e. eating, they get REALLY smart!!!  Your horse figures out quickly the candy is coming after the salad so they leave their hay and wait for the grain…and they become very impatient in doing do.  This actually results in the opposite desired effect and they will guzzle down their grain or concentrate even more rapidly, which puts them at risk of choke and colic

There’s been quite a bit of research done on the timing of hay and feed and we know that offering hay before grain does not slow down the rate of passage through the digestive tract.  In fact, if hay is eaten within a few hours before or after grain, it flushes the grain through faster.

Why is this?
A horse will drink more water when they are fed hay, compared to a grain or concentrate feed.  Horses need to chew hay more (about 4 times more) than grain.  As chewing stimulates saliva production and saliva is mostly water, this means the stimulus to drink more water increases…so they do just that!

In addition, hay results in a huge water shift in the digestive system…much more is retained in hind gut (which is a reason why forage only diets can be so beneficial for hydration status in travelling and competing horses).   So, the increase in water intake, plus the fluid shift due to hay consumption will result in grain being transported more rapidly through the GI tract.  This occurs regardless of whether you feed hay before or after grain.

Sooo, in short, “offering your horse hay before you give them grain has no advantage over feeding both hay and grain at the same time or offering grain first and then hay, which is the practice that most horse owners follow.

Why is grain being rushed through the GI tract so bad for my horse?
Ideally, you want starch to be digested in the small intestine, and there’s not much time for this to happen under normal circumstances.  If undigested starch passes into the large intestine, it is fermented by the resident gut microorganisms, and it will wreak havoc…think colic, laminitis.

The best way to maximize starch digestion in the small intestine is to leave the horse without hay for at least 1 hour prior to feeding grain. Then after feeding grain, you need to wait 2 hours before feeding hay…not very practical huh?  Nope, nor is it very considerate of equine behavioral needs, physiological health, or welfare.

So what’s the best way to feed?

…as nature intended.

Feeding starchy grains and highly soluble carbohydrate feeds (i.e. bagged feeds…often the equivalent of a bag of candy or a Maccy D’s :)) to an animal that has evolved to eat a variety of low starch, structural carbohydrate forages, and a lot of them, is an outdated, often dangerous and largely unnecessary practice that keeps feed companies in business and vets busy – believe me, we take no pleasure in emergency colic callouts. 

We’re competing horses on forage only diets, including pasture only, very successfully. Emerging research is demonstrating it has superior benefits in many respects, including faster exercise recovery times and improved hydration status.  Not to mention a healthier, happier horse! 

We have no reason to be feeding large concentrate diets with inadequate forage to our horses…at any level. It’s a deep seated tradition that needs to be drop kicked out of this industry. The more we take responsibility for learning about good pasture management and making friends with our conserved forage manufacturers…the better off our horses will be, and the less we will need to fret over timing of feeds and unnecessary vet bills.

Any efforts taken to provide a predominantly varied forage diet will pay you back exponentially and your horse will be forever grateful!

Your horse is a horse and needs to be fed as such…we can and we must do better.

01 February 2014 Barn Fires – not a ‘shame’…a PREVENTABLE tragedy

I woke this morning to gut wrenching news that a big barn in my second-home state of Georgia, USA, had lost 18 horses in a barn fire.  My heart and deepest sympathies go out to everyone involved, especially the horses that perished.  Yet I cannot help but get downright pissed off, that such stories serve as a sobering reminder that too many innocent horses suffer as a result of human shortfalls in duty and care.   Year after year.

Barn fires are DEVASTATING, but they are largely PREVENTABLE…

…but NOT by relying on well-meaning, yet under-informed posts like this one currently being re-circulated, touting modified headcollars as great barn fire “safety measures”.

It’s a common belief that if you leave a halter and lead line on your horse’s stall, in the event of a fire, a firefighter or first responder can halter and lead your horse out of the barn to safety.  It’s what I believed up until a couple of years ago. What I learned through research and TLAER training is that in reality, it’s just not that simple, I wish it were. In fact it’s a dangerous myth that needs to be committed to the ashes.

Admittedly, easy slip halters come in handy, they were an integral part of a good barn management plan when I grew up.  However, I want people to be FULLY aware that if they are overlooking barn safety mitigation and early detection and fire suppression systems for the old halter on the door method, they are giving themselves FALSE HOPE, and putting the lives of horses and people at risk.

First, a bit of a reality check.  A burned horse is something you never want to experience.  They look like a plasticized carousel horse, and the smell will imprint onto your nostrils until eternity (this is actually a horse found after a bush fire, but same effect).

All too often, we will spend fortunes on unnecessary barns, designed and built with human comfort and convenience in mind, and don’t give a thought to early detection or fire suppression systems. The usual excuse is ‘well they’re too expensive’ …just spent a few hundred $$$ on a barn and cannot ‘justify’ an early detection & sprinkler system that’s about 10% of the overall cost…NO EXCUSE!!

So, why are early detection/barn fire suppression systems worth the investment?

Quite simply, they SAVE LIVES and there is NO price you can put on that. Yet still, many people have not even given it a thought.  If you speak to someone who has been through the devastation a barn fire brings, you’ll soon realize, such preventative fire safety measures are as critical as the foundations upon which the barn is built.

In an ideal world, horses would not be subject to being locked in individual cages, AKA stalls/stables/loose boxes.  However, that’s an issue for another time.  We live in the real world and that’s far from ideal for many horses, so the VERY LEAST we can do is take measures to be responsible for their safety and welfare whilst they are subject to our imposed confines.

How common are barn fires?

Quoting from a presentation given at the 2008 American Association of Equine Practitioners conference, by leading expert in this field, Dr Rebecca Gimenez, “barn fires are the No 1. local emergency that affects everyone from horse owners to veterinarians, and property owners to the horses themselves. Barn fires kill more horses annually than any other type of nonmedical emergency. Of 11,500 agricultural storage facility fires per year, 88% are barns or stables with animals, resulting in about $250 million in property losses annually. In 87 horse-barn fire incidents reported in 2006 and 2007, 461 horses died and an unknown number were injured.”

Although actual barn fire statistics go grossly under-reported, we know that each year hundreds of animals die in largely preventable barn fires.  Stables tend to be wooden structures that are well-ventilated (ideal for horse health and feeding fires!) and filled chock-a-block full of highly combustible materials. Although this seems pretty obvious, in most cases where a barn fire has occurred, owners believed their barns were not at risk of fire.

The majority of barns burn RAPIDLY, giving you a window of about 3-5 minutes to get all humans and animals out safely.  This means, unless you live next door to the Fire Department you’re likely to be the one doing the rescuing!  So, how informed and prepared are you?

When are fires more likely to happen?

Well, pretty much anytime really, however, statistics show a greater incidence during the winter months (when heating equipment tends to be used), and also during normal working hours (7am-7pm).  It’s estimated that 80-85% of horse barn fires are started accidentally through human error (e.g. smoking cigarettes) or electrical malfunctions.  Although not a common cause, arson, i.e. the willful and malicious setting of fire to a structure, accounts for about 15% of barn fires.

A little insight into fire behavior – fascinating but terrifying

For those that paid attention in physics, or just have incendiary tendencies, you’ll remember that a fire requires 3 ingredients to burn:

  • Ignition source (spark, flame, intense heat)
  • Fuel source
  • Oxygen

Depending on the availability of these three ingredients, a fuel source can begin to smolder e.g. hay stack, manure pile.  It can go like this for hours, producing small amounts of heat that are undetectable to humans or commercial detectors.  While these kinds of ‘smoldering’ fires, can be more easily brought under control, they can also be the most difficult to detect and extinguish. Anyone who has tried to extinguish a smoldering hay stack can attest to this.

Straw bedding can reach a burning temperature of 148 °C (300 °F) in one to five minutes, during which time it can burn an area about the size of an average stall.  It develops as much heat and burns at the same rate as gasoline!  A short exposure to 66°C (151°F) is about all living beings can survive.  Anything beyond that and the heat destroys the delicate tissues of the respiratory tract.  Injury to these tissues can occur in as little as ONE MINUTE which is why you have about 30-60 SECONDS to rescue a human, horse or other animal from a burning stall.  Severe damage to the lungs will result in impaired air exchange and the victim will suffocate.  Within THREE minutes of exposure, the victim will be dead.

When flames appear, this indicates more heat is being produced and the fire spreads rapidly.  At this point, it may be too late to save any lives.  After flame eruption, within minutes temperatures can exceed 982°C (1,800°F) at ceiling level.

Temperatures approach ‘flash point’ within three to five minutes.  The flash point is the temperature at which all combustibles in that space of super-heated air will ignite i.e. your barn goes up in flames!

So, if a fire breaks out in your horse’s stall and the fire is less than 1 foot (0.3 meters) in diameter, with a temperature of less than 66°C (150°F), you have 30 SECONDS or less to get your horse out alive and relatively unscathed.  After 30 seconds, fatal internal injuries will result due to smoke and heat inhalation.  As for the horses in adjoining stalls, you MAY have five to eight minutes to get them out.  Fire fighters often report how quiet a barn is when they enter as the animals have quickly succumbed to the effects of smoke and heat inhalation, even though the barn may not be fully engulfed.

Even after a successful extrication, the after effects of smoke can become evident minutes or days after the initial insult.  Toxins in the burning materials can induce severe tissue damage when inhaled.  For example, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide block the absorption of oxygen by hemoglobin molecules in the red blood cells, resulting in asphyxiation.  The blood continues to circulate but does not carry enough oxygen to sustain life, and animals and humans often succumb later to pneumonia and lung damage.

Easy to see how a modified fire halter bears into insignificance when you understand the reality of fire behavior…it’s even more revealing when you’re faced with the real thing.  By then, it’s usually too late.

Understanding horse behavior in barn fires

You cannot readily predict how an individual horse will react when it come to a fire situation and they often react in the exact opposite way to what you thought they would. It is important to remember that horses are prey animals and they instinctively seek safety in a herd.  Often horses turned loose will frustratingly turn right around and head back INTO the burning building.  To them, this is instinctively their ‘safe’ zone where their other herd members are likely to be.  For that reason, ideally, barn doors/gates should be closed after the horse(s) are evacuated.

The other disaster scenario involves loose horses running down the road in survival, get- me-outta-here, blind panic mode, posing a danger to themselves, pedestrians, other vehicles, including emergency responders on their way to the scene.  Ideally, you will have a safe designated area accessible by evacuation lane ways leading straight from the barn where containment will not be an additional worry.  This is something that needs to be evaluated in your individual fire prevention and response plan.

Smoke induces a panic response in the horse.  Mix that with human panic, sirens, lights. firefighters in full Darth Vader getup, & loud fire cracking, and it’s can be a scene of shear confusion and chaos. Two behaviors that are commonly reported are horses trying to climb stall walls in attempt to escape, or standing quietly in the corner as if accepting their fate.  Horses that climb the stall walls subject themselves to more dense smoke and are more likely to die.  Severe trauma can also occur while trying to climb out, the results of which can be fatal.  In general, young horses and stallions are more likely to react in this way.  Older horses tend to stand in the corner and do not attempt to escape.

Animals do not voluntarily breathe smoke.  They will instinctively seek a window or other clean air source.  In mock-up practical demonstrations involving fire crews and simulated smoke, horses are observed sourcing stall windows to get air.  If a stall window are not available, the horse lowers his head to get the ‘cleaner air’ at ground level.

So what’s my point here?

While easy-slip halters are a good idea for general use, and really every horse should have one hanging on their door (preferably an outward facing door), the REALITY is people are hiding behind a false sense of security that such ‘simple’ measures will offer a competitive advantage over the potential devastation of a barn fire.  If you do not believe me, do a timed mock-up of a barn evacuation, and see how long it takes you to run in, halter every horse, and lead them out.  Better still, do an artificial smoke emergency evacuation with your local fire department involved, it will give an eye opening, bone chilling hint of how terrifying the real thing can be.

PREVENTION is the key, and your best chance of a positive outcome is an optimal fire detection/alert/response method. Quality early detection and fire suppression systems such as sprinkler systems are recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.  There’s a MUST READ article here for more info.

Bottom Line

As horse owners/barn managers, we have a MORAL, ETHICAL, and LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY to ensure we have designed, implemented and PRACTICED appropriate emergency disaster plans for our horses, family or personnel that are likely to be on the property, and any other animals under our care.

Fireproof your barn!  Nothing is fail-proof but you can greatly increase the odds of minimizing complete devastation.  There are some good tips here to get you started. Contact your local fire department to come do a property and barn assessment…their insight is invaluable.

As with most emergency disaster planning, prevention is the key.  Mitigation involves taking steps that will reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to life and property.  Potential loss to life (human and equine) and property can be significantly reduced with good preventative measures in place.

Last say…

After all the training, research, experiences, opinions, insights I’ve engulfed on barn fires over the years, I have an overwhelmingly simple suggestion that, to me, stands out like the proverbial elephant in the room….don’t house the horse in a bloody barn in the first place!!!

The most straight-forward, sensible, cost-effective, life saving solution is not to keep horses in such human-necessitated cages and potential death traps in the first place. When are we going to get our heads around the fact that traditional barns are nothing more than an outdated method of welfare compromising confinement, designed and built purely with human comfort and convenience in mind. The amount spent building individual stalls could easy be put towards an early detection & suppression system in a well designed group housing/shelter system.

Time to remove our head from the sand and get with the 21 century folks.  Let’s start putting a bit of horse sense into our common sense!

For more informed help and guidance on the subject, as well as Large Animal Rescue training opportunities, check out the Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) FB page.

Anything by Dr Rebecca Gimenez, Michelle Staples & MaryAnne Leighton on the subject of emergency response, to any possible situation, is worth your time, and could save a life.

Great reference books here, here here!



24 January 2014 The Scoop on Poop (pile 1)

Sh*t happens…in fact, in the average horse, about 50lbs (23 kg) of it every day or 9 tons per year… but don’t poo-poo the poo, it can actually tell you a lot about health of your horse and we can put it to good use in the environment too!

In the first pile of this two pile heap, we’ll look at what ‘meadow muffins’ can tell us about the health of our horse.  In the second pile, we will explore what we can do with it!

The Process of Elimination

Ever ridden a horse that stops to poop?  It can seem like a LIFETIME, especially when you’re in the middle of a competitive arena!  However, in reality, each defecation only lasts about 15 seconds.  How many times this is repeated throughout the day will depend on your horse’s age, sex and diet.

On average, mares and geldings poop 6-8 times per day, and stallions and foals can do double that.  So, this gives you ample opportunity to do some poop sleuthing to evaluate your horse’s health on a daily basis…yes, non-horsey people WILL think you’re weird, but you’re in good company here!

Vital Signs

Along with Temperature, Pulse and Respiration, you need to consider faecal production as one of your horse’s vital signs (TPPR:)).  What your horse eats can affect the colour and consistency of their faeces, so it’s important to know what is normal for YOUR horse.  In your horse’s health chart, make a note of where they poop and how much they poop.

If they’re out in the pasture, take time to go out there and do some good old-fashioned poop scooping …not only will it help you to monitor your horse’s health, it’s a very inexpensive, efficient form of parasite control and is a good form of exercise 🙂

While the following may sound like an excerpt from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s aimed at giving you an insight into whether or not your horse’s poop is too soft, too firm, too gritty, too colourful, too bitty or just right!

Too soft

Too Soft (Photo courtesy of NCCLAYCLUB)

There are varying degrees of ‘soft’, from ‘cow pat’ consistency to ‘painting-the-stall-walls’ diarrhoea.  The former may be nothing to worry about; the latter can indicate a life-threatening problem.  Considering the massive ability of the horse’s colon to absorb water, changes in faecal consistency signify something major is going on in the colon and need close monitoring and veterinary assessment.

Diarrhoea can be grouped into four main categories:

  • Infectious e.g. bacterial salmonellosis, clostridiosis, equine proliferative enteropathy
  • Inflammatory e.g. eosinophilic enteritis
  • Cancerous e.g. lymphoma
  • Management Related i.e. making sudden changes in diet, exposing the horse to particularly stressful situations such as trailering.  Older horses can have chronic loose stools and this can often be improved or resolved by increasing the fibre in the diet.  Some medications can cause diarrhoea; pre & probiotics may be useful.

If you find your horse has suddenly developed a case of the trots (and not those of the gaited persuasion) call your vet.  This is very important when you have concurrent changes in attitude or appetite, and CRUCIAL in foals as they can become significantly dehydrated and go downhill, rapidly.

Too firm

Too firm (Photo courtesy MaxAtkinsBlog)

Constipation in the horse is more accurately referred to as an ‘impaction’, and it is a common cause of colic in the horse.  One of the cardinal rules of feeding is to make sure your horse has CLEAN FRESH WATER AVAILABLE AT ALL TIMES….another personal mantra of mine is ‘if you would not drink it then do not expect your horse to either!”

An inadequate water supply is a primary cause of dry feces and, coupled with a high dry matter intake (e.g. hay versus fresh pasture, or grain based diet versus forage based diet) can easily lead to impaction problems.

Your horse will drink, on average, 5-10 gallons (19-38l) per day depending on the individual and a variety of external factors such as diet, humidity, exercise.  Certain extremes in environment can dictate water availability, i.e. when it freezes, or is in short supply in hot & humid environments.

(Please note:  a river/creek/pond is NOT an acceptable form of water provision for your horse!  All accessible large bodies of water should be fenced off from your horses for environmental, safety, and health issues.)

Other things such as stress, transport, pain, & lack of movement (i.e. if the horse is stalled) can also have a negative on gut motility and have the potential to cause impactions.
Too gritty

Glove test for sand accumulation (Photo courtesy of Western Shooting Horse)

If your horse grazes in sandy soil pastures, or eats off a sandy or fine gravel surface, you may notice that the poop is particularly sandy.  However, before you go grabbing you magnifying glass, follow this simple method of determining if you have a sand problem.

  1. Place six faecal balls in a glass jar, or a palpation sleeve (if you just happen to have one handy or your vet is kind enough to donate to your cause)
  2. Fill with water (about double the volume), mix well, and allow it to settle for about 15 mins.
  3. If sand settles to the bottom of the jar/glove, it may indicate he’s ingesting it but passing it easily.
  4. If you have no sand, it either means your horse is not consuming substantial amounts of sand OR he’s just not passing the sand…which could put him at risk for colic.

There are a number of management steps you can follow to help reduce the risk of sand ingestion, the first being to ensure your horse has a constant flow of fibre/forage through his GI tract.  If you’re at all concerned, call your vet.  They can come and listen to the gut sounds with a stethoscope and suggest further management options that will help you get on ahead of a potential gritty issue.

Too Colourful

While we’re not going to find faecal balls resembling the annual village Easter-egg hunt (hopefully!), manure can come in a variety of colours and textures,

  • Alfalfa often results in very green balls.
  • A high beet pulp intake can result in reddish-brown faecal balls +/- sticky clear film
  • A horse that is unaccustomed to vegetable oil can produces faeces that are loose, greyish and oily.
  • A mucous film will look whitish or almost yellow.  This tells us the manure has sat inside the GI tract too long, and it can take some of the lining of the GI tract with it as it chugs along.

Two colours that should have your alarm bells ringing and your finger hitting speed dial for your veterinarian are:

  • Red – this can indicate bleeding in the back-end of the GI tract, such as with rectal tear.
  • Black – this can indicate bleeding much further forward in the GI tract where blood has been digested before being excreted.  It is very uncommon to see in horses (compared to dogs and cats).  The exception to this rule is the ‘neonatal meconium’, a newborn’s first manure that comes in a near black, pelleted form.

Too bitty

Seeing lots of long strands of hay or undigested grains in your horse’s poo?  This could signify dental issues that may be preventing your horse from being able to chew his food sufficiently.

Now, while there is some evidence in the research archives to suggest poor dentition results in long stems of roughage in the manure, there is actually little evidence to support the validity that floating teeth has a direct effect on fibre length.  With that being said, it still warrants a check-up from your veterinary dentist or licensed dental technician, if you have them in your country.  (Be warned, there are many self-certified ‘experts’ in this field, you can read more about that here).

Be aware that poor dentition can result from no dentistry, half-ass dentistry, or overtly aggressive dentistry.  The latter has a more significant effect on the functional capacity of the teeth.  I have seen horses that have been subject to heavy handed floating, to the point where their whole occlusal or grinding surface has been ground smoother than a baby’s bottom.   This renders the whole dental arcade worthless, is a significant health and welfare concern and can take YEARS to correct, if ever.

Just right!

Just Right! (Photo courtesy of Planet Equus)

  • Well-formed faecal balls
  • Noticeable stems but no chunks of food
  • Fairly uniform colour
  • Little odour (compared to meat eaters!)
  • No mucous covering
  • Small amount of liquid immediately before and after may also be seen.


So the take home scoop on poop is know your horse! Consistency is the key.  Make changes to the diet gradually to give the micro flora time to adapt.  If you notice anything out of the norm, be sure to call your vet.  It can take up to 3 days to get from bucket to barrow so you could already be behind the pile!

In The Arena

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