Colic is the number one killer of horses, other than old age, so knowing how to reduce the risk of colic and gut issues ranks very high (3rd in fact according to the 2016 Equine Guelph Horse Racing Industry Survey − right behind respiratory issues and injuries). On January 22 – February 11, 2018, over 100 grooms and trainers in the Ontario horse racing industry received online training in the topic of digestive health that is so crucial for every horse owner and caretaker. Athletic horses in the racing and non-racing industry are often exposed to more stressors and factors that can contribute to gastrointestinal issues.
“Thank you for providing this course! My husband is a third generation full-time Standardbred trainer and was pretty much born and raised at the race track. We thought he knew everything there was to know based on the generations of knowledge he had in his head. By the end of the first day of the course, we were already discussing possible new strategies and techniques. By the end of the 3rd week, we realized how little we actually knew and are now implementing many new methods to lessen the chances of colic happening at the track and at the farm.”
~ student of the winter 2018 Gut Health & Colic course
Similar participant reviews reinforced the positive impact and multitude of lessons learned in this very important course on equine digestive health. With over 650 discussion posts the hunger for knowledge on this topic was highly evident! Feedback included students announcing they planned to alter their feed programs in a way that will reduce colic risks. Many students were surprised to learn that approximately 80% of colic episodes may be related to management and therefore can be prevented. Other risk factors such as: amount of forage fed, turn out time and dehydration and electrolyte status were major topics of discussion.
A most interesting topic raised was that of research bringing new insights about the gut microbiome. We have known that horses are hind gut fermenters but now we are learning more and more how to feed the “bugs” in the gut to promote a healthy gut. Understanding of both the horse and human gut are growing as researchers are linking disturbances of overall health with imbalances in the gut microbiome. More on this in recently published article: Teaming up to Go with the Gut: Horse and Human Investigations.
Guest speaker and highly experienced equine nutritionist, Don Kapper was on hand dispelling myths and discussing nutrition as it pertains to horse health and performance. The following are just a few of the interesting topics that were discussed:
Salty Discussions Gave Students Something to Chew on
I want to monitor consumption. If I put 8 oz of white salt out, I will know how long it takes before it is gone and I can then include that into my management information on salt consumption. I find it more difficult to monitor 4 or 50 lbs bricks or blocks.
I weigh and measure everything horses consume, to make sure the nutrients fall into an ‘optimal range’, to prevent potential problems.
Feeding to Maintain Body Condition for Athletic Performance
Intensely training racehorses can be very difficult to maintain desired body condition. You are not only dealing with the physical conditioning of the horse, but you are dealing with the mental conditioning as well. It seems the higher strung they are the more difficult it is to keep them on feed and performing.
To help them, we need to understand that the ‘maximum’ amount of a performance horse feed to feed per day is 50% of their total diet, i.e. hay plus horse feed = Total kgs eaten/day. Because it is difficult to tell how much hay they are eating in the box stall per day, we make a few exceptions:
Intensely trained horses can eat up to 3% of their ‘ideal’ body weight per day in hay plus horse feed. If we don’t know how much hay the horses are eating, we recommend not feeding over 40% of their estimated Total Diet as horse feed. So if we have a 500 kg horse, eating 3% of their body weight per day, that would be 15 kg/day. 40% of that would be 6 kg/day of horse feed and 9 kg/day of hay. So as you approach this maximum amount of performance feed per day, begin adding your selected vegetable oil. Don’t wait until they go off feed and then try and get them to eat more of the performance feed.
Assuming the hay contains 2% fat and your performance feed contains 6% fat, that would equal .36 kg of oil from the grain mixture and .18 Kg of oil from the hay, totaling .54 kg of ‘added’ oil per day. The maximum amount of oil a 500 kg horse can ’emulsify’ per day is .68 Kg per day, so you can add up to a ‘maximum’ of .14 Kg of your liquid oil per day, or 0.7 Kg of Rice Bran. Start adding it slowly and increase the amount fed per day to appetite and/or desired body weight.
Seasonal Feeding Considerations – Preventing Acid Gut Syndrome & Horses Going “off” feed
Another ‘observance’ you need to make: When forages are fermented in the hindgut of the horse, there are 2 by-products, Gas and Heat. Therefore, in the Winter it is easier to keep the horses ‘on feed’, because they will be interested in eating more hay to stay warm. But in the Summer, when the ambient temperature increases, the horse will back off eating hay due to the internal heat production in their hindgut. That is when it is easy to ‘over-feed’ your grain or grain mixture. If you go over 50% of their diet as grain or grain mixture, you will send them into ‘acid gut syndrome’, causing them to stop eating, loosen stools, and if it leads to diarrhea it is due to ‘acidosis’, that can lead to laminitis. When the stools loosen, you know the fermentation vat is not functioning optimally. This prevents the horse from breaking down the forage and absorbing the nutrients found inside the plant. This also means that the B-Complex vitamins are not being produced and an inadequate amount is being absorbed to help the performance horse utilize the other nutrients, like calories, being fed. This is why B-Complex injections or supplements are so common on the race tracks and why trainers say they help the horses perform. IF the gut was functioning optimally, they would see no change after supplementing the B-Complex vitamins.
It is too common to have the horses ready to race, only to have them go ‘off feed’, and have to scratch them from the race.
Electrolytes for Recovery
Remember also to use a Performance Electrolyte after training and racing. It will make a world of difference after loosing 40 lbs during the race. Mix 4 oz per Liter of water and offer it to the horses as they cool down. In the summer, when they loose so much weight, I would expect them to drink up to 3 Liters after a race. That is a normal amount and you will be impressed with how well they will respond, i.e. bounce back, and are willing to race again.
Stay tuned for the next online offering of Gut Health and Colic Prevention. Increasing knowledge of digestive health issues and preventative management strategies is invaluable for anyone who cares for horses.
In the meantime, visit Equine Guelph’s interactive Colic Risk Rater healthcare tool to learn how you can reduce your horse’s risk of Colic.
This program is an online training partnership between Ontario Racing and Equine Guelph, with funding provided by Grand River Agricultural Society.
Project partners include: Central Ontario Standardbred Association, The Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario, Ontario Harness Horse Association, Quarter Racing Owners of Ontario Inc. and Standardbred Canada. The online course is sponsored by Intercity Insurance Services Inc. and Capri Insurance Services Ltd.