It goes without saying that horsepeople want to ensure that colic doesn’t strike their racing outfits this spring. When it comes to Equine Guelph, the feeling is mutual.
Equine Guelph’s Colic Risk Rater healthcare tool was utilized by over 100 students in the winter 2018 offering of Equine Guelph’s Gut Health & Colic course. Feedback indicates that participants were keen to learn the simple management changes that could reduce their chances of colic. Many were surprised to learn that approximately 80 per cent of colic episodes may be related to management and therefore can be prevented. Available on the Equine Guelph website, the free Colic Risk Rater tool provides individual feedback to help horse owners identify risk factors and develop preventative strategies to help reduce the risk of colic.
Spring in particular is a time when many new stresses can impact the horse. Very often this is a time when riders start to ramp up the intensity of exercise and also feed. Making changes to horses feed slowly is a common topic among horse caretakers but did you know it is even more important to change forages slowly than it is concentrates?
'Concentrates' are broken down by enzymes in the foregut for the horse to digest, while forages are broken down by the microbes in the hindgut and it is the microbes that feed the horse. Therefore, it is even more critical to change forages more slowly than concentrates, in the horse’s diet.
In spring, there is the introduction of grass pasture to consider. If we let the horse out on pasture when the grasses are beginning to grow, Mother Nature helps control the intake of this new, very digestible, 'short forage, as it begins to grow very slowly. Problems arise when the manager waits until the fresh grasses are three to four inches tall before turning the horses out to eat it. Then the horse can consume too much at one time and cause a digestive upset (i.e., colic).
However, not every farm owner has an ideal ratio of one horse per 1.5 - 2 acres of grazing in which case special pasture management includes rotating horses to new paddocks before the grass is eaten down below three inches. In these cases, introduce horses to fresh grass with gradual increases in grazing time. If stools begin to loosen, you know that grazing time was increased too much. Back off the time spent grazing and be sure to provide the horses with extra hay when off the pastures. This allows them to chew more, which will produce more saliva thereby controlling pH levels, which helps the good microbial population stay healthy and restore the 'good' bugs in the gut.
During the last Gut Health and Colic course, 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. One of the topics Kapper discussed was manure; “this is one ‘visual’ for all horse owners to monitor and learn to manage accordingly.” Too firm (dry) stools would be an indication of dehydration, a condition that can lead to impaction colic if ignored.
Moist stools could indicate a well hydrated horse, but if it becomes too loose and is accompanied with a strong 'acid' aroma, it could indicate something has happened to the microbial population in the colon. One of the jobs of the colon is to absorb water and form the feces, but the microbes found there are very pH sensitive, therefore, a ‘hindgut irritant’ caused from eating too much starch or sugar; lack of adequate fermentable fibre; or extended treatment of antibiotics, could cause 'Acid Gut Syndrome' that could lead to 'Acidosis'. Unfortunately, acidosis is when the pH of the colon becomes <6.0 and this is when 80 per cent of the horses will founder.
The most common cause of ‘Acid Gut Syndrome’, during a change of season, is a change in the forage they are eating. This could be from: 1) transitioning from mature grass hay to immature grass pasture, or visa versa; 2) feeding a different 'type' of hay (remember it takes different microbes in their fermentation vat to breakdown the different ‘types’ of forage). To make a 100 per cent microbial change in their fermentation vat (i.e. hindgut) takes 21 days. Therefore, to maintain a healthy gut, it is more important to change your 'forage' more slowly than your concentrate feed.
Colic is the No. 1 killer of horses, other than old age. Knowing your horse and picking up on change is one important factor in colic prevention. The Colic Risk Rater health care tool also takes horse owners through management strategies such as: amount of forage fed, quality of feed and amounts fed at once, turn out time, exercise routine, hydration and parasite control.
Stay tuned to theHorsePortal.ca for the next offering of Gut Health and Colic.
Visit Equine Guelph’s interactive Colic Risk Rater healthcare tool to learn how you can reduce your horse’s risk of Colic.
(With files from Equine Guelph)