SUCCEED® Blog:

Where #SeriousHorsePeople come to better understand digestive health in horses and its impact and management.

Monday Myth #1: Only High Strung, Nervous Horses Get Ulcers

In Monday Myths we debunk common misconceptions about a range of topics regarding equine digestive health and care. These are real statements made by real horse people. Have a question or topic you would like to see covered? Submit your idea here.

Statement: I was so surprised when my vet diagnosed my horse with colonic ulcers. She’s so laid-back!

Today’s myth discusses the commonly-held belief that only nervous, high-strung horses get ulcers. Stress is often listed as the primary cause of ulcers in horses; it’s supposedly related to a horse’s naturally high-strung temperament, or the stress induced by travel, competition, relocation, and more.

While stress has been shown to lower a horse’s immunity and make it more susceptible to illness, it is not a direct cause of ulcers. Because there are many factors at work to cause ulceration in the equine gastrointestinal tract, any horse of any temperament may suffer from ulcers.

Factors that Lead to Ulcers in Horses

Horses are designed to have a near-constant intake of fibrous foods (forages like grass, hay, chaff, etc) and get most of their energy from the fermentation of this food in the hindgut. Elements of modern horse care – factors of necessity and/or convenience – work against this natural functioning and may create a digestive environment that suffers from illness, including ulcers:

  • Limited turnout (less than 18 hours per day)
  • Fed concentrates (processed grains, pellets, sweet feed)
  • Fed only 2-3 large meals per day (periods of time with nothing to eat)
  • Exercised regularly, especially rigorously

If a horse meets even one of these criteria, it is at risk for suffering from a compromised digestive system, including hindgut acidosis, ulcers, and colic.

Calm Horses at Risk for Ulcers Too

Laid-back horses in particular tend to be more stoic when faced with stressful situations and/or discomfort – so just because a horse doesn’t show the classic signs of digestive upset doesn’t mean that it isn’t suffering. In fact, it’s well-proven in veterinary medicine that laid-back horses usually begin showing symptoms when a disease is more advanced.  It can be difficult to distinguish between a naturally calm horse versus a lethargic sick one, so in case of a sudden change in behavior (even if calmer is better) involve your veterinarian.

Additionally, a low-grade GI tract condition may affect the horse’s ability to absorb nutrients fully – so a calm horse may actually be exhibiting an unhealthy energy or nutrition deficiency. The average healthy horse handled appropriately should be calm yet alert, responsive but not explosive.

Why Nervous Horses are Prone to Developing Ulcers

So why is it a commonly held belief that only nervous horses get ulcers? Their susceptibility does increase for two reasons: 1. the immune system is compromised when stressed and 2. they are more likely to go off their feed, pick at their hay, and stop drinking when they are subjected to a potentially stressful situation.

Research has shown that upwards of 90% of performance horses may suffer from ulcers – no matter their temperament. Learn more about what you can do to treat and prevent ulcers in horses.

Only high-strung horses get ulcers = myth. Because the digestive environment is influenced primarily by what and how a horse eats, ANY horse can be at risk for developing ulceration or other GI conditions.

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Related Articles:

+
Your Horse's Blood Work & What It Means for Gut Health

As a horse owner, our equine partner’s comfort and health is our top concern. We all know the old adage, “no hoof, no horse”, but the same could be said about a horse’s GI tract. […]

+
The Summer Run’s Impact on a Rodeo Horse’s Gut Health

The notorious “summer run” in the world of rodeo is the most demanding time of the year for competitors and their performance horses. It’s not abnormal for rodeo athletes to travel more than 20,000 miles, […]

+
Stable Vices: A Sign of Digestive Issues in Horses

Do you have a horse that behaves badly when confined to a stall? Cribbing, wood chewing, weaving, stall walking … all are troubling signs your horse is unhappy and uncomfortable. The tricky problem is figuring […]

+
Managing Digestive Health in Horses with Cushings

If you have been around horses long enough, you have seen it—a horse with an abnormally long coat who walks like a lame duck and looks like they cannot get enough nutrients into their body. […]

+
Diagnosing and Managing Enteritis in Horses

Introduction to Enteritis in Horses Enteritis is the inflammation of the small intestine. While most commonly associated with bacterial infection, Enteritis often involves both non-infectious and infectious diseases. (Page et al., 2014.) Enteritis is of […]

+
SUCCEED for Long-Term Equine GI Support

SUCCEED Digestive Conditioning Program supports your horse’s entire gastrointestinal system, especially the often ignored hindgut. Your horse’s hindgut represents 85% of its gastrointestinal system. That makes the hindgut a critical part of the horse’s overall […]

horses nutritional needs

FREE eBook:

Nutrition for Horses

Three factors for evaluating
your horse’s nutritional needs.

DOWNLOAD NOW