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Equine Gastric Ulcers – 4 Feeds to Avoid!

Tanja Dietz


4 Min. Lesezeit

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Nearly every competition horse has had, at some point, some kind of stomach ailment. The causes are clear: stress during training, long transport and tension before and during the tests. Nobody says tournament horses have it easy. But all riders, whether they’re amateurs or pros, love their horses. We are eternally grateful to them because they go through thick and thin with us. We are elated when they learn something new with us. And we burst with pride when they rise to the occasion and give us their best performance.

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That's why we want to do as much for them as possible. We are ready to invest in the health of our horses. Not only do we buy prescription drugs, we also try out feed additives. To us, our horses are worth it. They'll do anything for us. We want to give them something back. But does one really have to try everything to prevent gastric ulcers? The following four feeds are presented for you to reconsider whether to feed them to your precious or reach for an alternative.

1) An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Not quite, if...

How will you reward your horse for a job well done today? If your horse is prone to stomach problems like gastric ulcers, you should be careful what you give him as a reward. Apples are a welcome reward for any horse, but may cause reactions in those with sensitive stomachs. The acid and sugar in apples can upset the balance of the stomach and lead to unpleasant discomfort. Of course it also depends on the quantity: one apple a day may be OK, but why not make that reward a carrot or beetroot next time?!

2) Ginger – why caution is advised, especially for horses with stomach issues!

Ginger has been used to feed horses for about 15 years. This spicy tuber and the powder obtained from it is said to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic properties. Ginger is said to be very effective against kissing spines, navicular disease, bone spavin and other arthritic diseases. But, like many other things, ginger also has a downside. The feeding of ginger over a longer period of time can lead to stomach mucous membrane irritations and colic. For this reason, ginger is an absolute no-go for horses suffering from or susceptible to gastric ulcers! Moreover, ginger only suppresses pain and symptoms without fighting the causes. It should also be mentioned that ginger is considered a doping agent and therefore less suitable for feeding to competitive horses.

3) Lucerne – it’s the (particle) size that counts.

Horse owners know that lucerne is a valuable source of nutrients. It is rich in easily-digestible protein, calcium and magnesium. Lucerne is said to buffer the pH value in the horse's stomach and thus protect the stomach lining from further irritation. This has a positive effect on gastric ulcers. Lucerne feed is usually chopped or ground. 

In a recent study, however, scientists from Leipzig found that, in connection with gastric ulcers, particle size of lucerne is important. Horses were fed 1.5 kg of lucerne chaff per 100 kg of body weight for 14 days. After a 16-day washout interval, the horses were given a 24-hour grazing period and were fed hay. An endoscope was used on each horse before and after the two different feeding methods. It was found that the horses showed increased gastric mucosal changes at the antrum pyloricum (initial section of the gastric outlet) after being fed lucerne chaff. It can therefore be assumed that the sharp-edged structure of the lucerne chaff does not have a particularly positive effect on the gastric mucosa, but rather causes mechanical irritation and thus lesions to the stomach lining.

Therefore lucerne, a high quality feed plant for horses, should be given in pellet or extrudate form. This applies in particular to horses which are susceptible to stomach problems. A horse that has or is very susceptible to gastric ulcers has a very sensitive stomach, the mucous membrane of which needs special protection. It should also be noted that the lesions to the stomach lining were able to heal again during the 16-day grazing period, showing that a steady intake of roughage and grazing has a positive effect on a horse’s stomach.

4) Linseed - uncooked not more than 100g a day!

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.

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The long-term solution

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Supports the nervous horse stomach in stressful situations.