Regardless of whether or not your horse is naturally sensitive, many horses develop gastric ulcers when under stress, because stress literally hits them in the stomach. It’s our job to make it possible for our horses to live as stress-free a life as possible. This can be especially difficult for competitive riders, however, because it’s not only participation in competitions that can stress horses, but the hard training before it, trailer transport and the rider’s nervousness as well.
We have put together 5 feeding tips for you and your horse. Find out here why supplements like vitamin C, beetroot and linseed should – or shouldn’t – be given to horses with stomach issues.
Have you ever fed your horse beetroot? No? Here are some good reasons why you should. Beetroot used to be given daily to draught and workhorses – and for good reason, because beetroot has real all-round benefits! Beetroot makes an excellent reward between meals or a supplement to meals. It is rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Beetroot strengthens the immune system and supports metabolism. It also de-acidifies the body and has haematopoietic, anti-inflammatory effects. Moreover, it contains less sugar than many fruits like apples or bananas, and is low in acid. If your horse is a little finicky and won’t touch fresh beetroot, you can try feeding it as chips.
Iodine has less to do with equine stomach ulcers, but is still an important trace element. Horses, like humans, need iodine, which is essential for the manufacture of thyroid hormones. These influence the metabolism of fats, protein and carbohydrates, thus regulating the horse's basal metabolic rate. They also affect bone metabolism (increase in calcium and phosphate metabolism), regulate muscles and the nervous system, and affect oxygen consumption, blood pressure and body temperature.
Horses require approximately between 0.3 and 0.5 mg of iodine per 100 kg body weight, depending on their age and activity. The need for iodine decreases as a horse ages, whereby performance will increase this requirement accordingly. A foal, for example, needs 0.5 mg of iodine per 100 kg, whilst an adult horse needs 0.3 mg of iodine per day for maintenance and a horse that works daily needs 0.4 mg per day. Iodine deficiency leads to a decrease in basal metabolic rate and is recognisable by weight gain with a lack of appetite, fatigue, poor performance and coat problems. Low blood pressure can be a further sign of iodine deficiency. In contrast, too much iodine leads to an increased synthesis of the thyroid hormones, which manifests itself in the horse losing weight despite eating well.
Because daily consumption of hay (and concentrated feed) usually does not cover a horse’s iodine requirements, adequate supplements should be provided.
It’s lately more often a problem that horses are provided with too much energy but not enough structured crude fibre to cover their energy requirements. Oils therefore play a rather subordinate role in horse feeding. Nevertheless, there are situations where it might make sense to feed your horse oil. Many horses get their energy and nutrient requirements through sufficient consumption of hay and mineral feed.
If this is not the case and the horse lacks energy, it should be given cereal-rich concentrated feed. Since eating cereals produces less saliva to buffer stomach pH than eating hay does, and since the breakdown of cereals through intestinal bacteria (intestinal flora) also produces acid in the digestive tract, the pH value decreases, leading to irritation of the mucous membranes in the stomach and intestines.
The consequences are lesions and ulcers on the mucous membrane. Oil, on the other hand, can be used for horses that are sensitive to the feeding of concentrated feed, as it provides energy, but at the same time does not increase the acid production due to degradation in the intestine. Of course, one should note the oil’s digestibility and proportion of omega-3 fatty acids.
Linseed and fish oil are particularly suitable, although many horses don’t like the taste of fish oil.
Palm oil is less suitable for horses as its high melting point makes it more difficult to digest. Olive oil is also not suitable because it has a high content of omega-6 fatty acids – a high level of which is often found in the diet anyway, and various studies have linked these to inflammatory processes.
Vitamin C plays an important role as an activator of cell metabolism and in protection against infections. It also has antioxidant properties and protects other vitamins from decay. Unlike humans, horses can synthesise sufficient amounts of vitamin C in the colon. Vitamin C is also contained in feeds such as grass, hay and carrots. However, synthesis may not be sufficient in horses subjected to heavy stress, athletic or otherwise. You should therefore reduce stress and prevent gastric ulcers long-term, because these bring additional stress to your horse – a vicious circle! This lowers the risk of vitamin C deficiency, which itself brings the risk of infection.
Linseed is a popular supplementary food for sensitive stomachs and for horses that tend to have moulting problems. Linseed has a positive effect on the digestive tract due to its mucus and fibre content. The mucilaginous substances of linseed line the stomach and intestinal walls and have a positive calming effect on the gastrointestinal mucous membranes. This in turn allows for better nutrient absorption. Their high fat content and the ratio of unsaturated fatty acids provides horses with energy and has a positive effect on the coat. The linseed oil contained in linseeds is high in omega-3 fatty acids. These triple unsaturated fatty acids neutralise arachidonic acid, which triggers many inflammatory processes in the body.
The downside to linseeds is that they contain cyanogenic glucosides, precursors to prussic acid. They are broken down in the body into components by the enzyme linase, contained in linseed. This releases prussic acid. It is therefore recommended to either boil the linseed before feeding, which will have a positive effect on mucus formation, but will also destroy the heat-sensitive omega-3 fatty acids. Cooking for at least 10 minutes renders the linase inactive, preventing the release of prussic acid in the intestinal tract. If you feed your horse uncooked linseed, do not exceed a quantity of 100-120 g per day. Raw linseeds should be ground before feeding to release their valuable substances.
An alternative to common brown linseed is golden linseed, which contains less prussic acid-containing glucosides but is also less rich in omega-3 fatty acids.