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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 …

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.

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

ABC Radio
ABC Radio
University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The Horse
The Horse
Red Hills International
Red Hills International
Horses and people
Horses and people
hoofbeats magazine
hoofbeats magazine
Chris stafford radio
Chris stafford radio