Stomach Ulcers and Hind Gut Ulcers have become a big topic in show horses. We have a few in the barn that have really been difficult cases. I’d like to share what I’ve learned about Ulcers.
Management is the first step in prevention and resolution of ulcers. Horses need hay in their bellies to buffer the effects of a grain feeding to help limit the occurrence of ulcers. Remember, most of your supplements have grains in them. So even if your horse is only in light work, eating hay and no grain, you need to consider your supplements as a grain feeding.
I’ve had some early mornings at numerous barns, and what I find, is although the barn worker waits a good 30 mins after hay to feed grain, the horses stand alert, staring at him/her, waiting for grain. Essentially, they’ve been fed their hay first, but they aren’t eating it. My own horse has a slow feeder net in his stall overnight. He is often still laying down until grain is fed. So, even though his net has hay in it, his stomach is empty when he is grained.
How do we solve this?
Let’s first review if your horse actually needs grain. I like to see horses at 5 flakes of hay a day before feeding any grain. When my horses are off work, their grain is eliminated and only added back once they are lean and need more calories than I can get in them with Timothy/Grass hay. I also go to a slow feeder net because I want them to keep hay in their stomach at all times.
My first go to for a horse in need of more calories is hay pellets or Chaffhay. Then oil (NEVER Corn oil) up to 1 cup. Then a fat supplement like Renew Gold (Rice Bran with coconut oil) up to 3 lbs or Dynamite HES (1 cup does wonders). If you horse is eating that much feed and in need of more, I am going to assume you are an endurance rider, upper level Eventer, FEI Dressage horse, aged horse unable to eat/digest grain, or a lactating mare. The other situation where we see horses eating more grains than that, are horses with hind gut ulcers. They usually just move their hay around, pee on it, it gets removed by the stall cleaner, and more hay fed. If you really investigate how much hay the horse is eating, it might be only two flakes thru the day. These horses often get fed more grain to help them gain weight, and the cycle continues. It’s important to ask the barn staff if the horse is eating as much as is on their feed card.
If your horse needs grain, consider moving grain an evening feeding when horses at boarding barns tend to be alert and nibbling more thru the day. My hard working GP horse gets grain twice daily. I’ve been dealing with ulcer issues with him for years. He has free choice hay, but again, I recently realized he is usually on an empty stomach at morning grain time. I’ve been feeding Purina Outlast (helps to buffer the stomach acid. It’s fed 4-5 times a day) for a few months, which has eliminated my use of Sucralfate, but not resolved all issues.
Recently, I added Chaffhaye to his morning grain. Chaffhaye is like silage. It’s fermented alfalfa containing lots of yummy yeasts and probiotics, and low in sugars (IR horse approved). It’s a strange product with the smell of apple cider vinegar. But if he isn’t going to eat hay before grain, giving the chaffhaye (longer stems than a pellet or cube) with grain is the best alternative. Since starting this method, I have eliminated omeprazole. It’s also allowed me to decrease his grain even though he is working harder.
Fitness and Work
I think this is also a really good time to really assess how hard your horse is working. Light work would be 20 mins of trot and 10 mins of canter a day. Horses in light work shouldn’t need grain to maintain their weight. M horses are overweight…..does your horse have a ditch down his back? Can you see the end of his ribcage? His hip bones? Are there fat pads over his shoulders or by his tail head? Does his crest feel firm, wide, or curve up and he isn’t at 4th level or above? Does his belly have a fat pad that gets squished when you tighten your girth? Yes to any of those questions would indicate your horse is to heavy. Cut the grain, give him more turnout, and ride more frequently.