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Underrated: Gastric Ulcers in Leisure Horses - The Hidden Stressors

Tanja Dietz


5 Min. Lesezeit

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Many owners are taken aback by the diagnosis of stomach ulcers in their horses. They may think, "But my horse isn't stressed, so why would it develop stomach ulcers?" The misconception that only competition horses suffer from stomach issues has long been debunked. Stress can arise not only in a competition setting but also in everyday situations, which we will address in this article.

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Up to 40% of leisure horses suffer from gastric ulcers, almost half of them. This is a significant number, considering that leisure horses, outwardly, are not exposed to stress. However, each horse, like us humans, is different in terms of stress susceptibility. For one, an unloved stall neighbor is the trigger for stress, while for another, it's overwhelming training sessions.

The way horses are kept can have a significant impact on their well-being.

Horses are not only creatures of the plains but also animals that thrive on movement; this encompasses their requirements for feeding and housing very well: always having access to roughage and continuous free movement. Despite being domesticated for about 5,000 years, the needs of horses have not changed - whether they are leisure horses or competition horses. They require food, water, free movement, light, fresh air, contact with their peers, and a place to rest.

Horses that do not have daily turnout or cannot spend time with other horses tend to develop stereotypes, usually stemming from stress. Horses thrive on stable structures and routines. Any changes in their daily routine can also cause stress. Therefore, the way they are kept has a significant impact on their well-being.

Hierarchy battles within the herd can trigger stress in horses.


Different horse keeping systems are evolving, with a trend towards keeping small groups together. While the idea of an open stable may seem ideal, it may not be suitable for every horse. Dominant horses can experience significant stress within the herd, constantly defending their position. On the other hand, subordinate horses may be pushed away from food, leading to insufficient roughage intake and potentially causing ulcers. It is crucial to maintain a stable and consistent herd dynamic, and remove any troublemakers to avoid disrupting the group harmony.

A compromise of the open stable concept could involve keeping the horses in groups during the day and providing each horse with a retreat in a box in the evenings. It is crucial to pay attention to each horse individually to determine the most stress-free housing arrangement. Good animal observation is essential to detect stress early and prevent the development of stomach ulcers. Is your horse showing symptoms such as lethargy and loss of appetite? These could be signs of a stomach ulcer. We have compiled a checklist of symptoms for you to check if your horse might be affected.

Horses require rest and relaxation

Horses need a safe haven for rest and relaxation. Shelters or hideaways in open stable concepts should be spacious enough for horses to easily avoid each other. Maintaining a respectful distance between individuals is crucial. In box stalls, it's important to ensure that the neighboring horse is friendly and that no confrontational situations arise. Additionally, a calm atmosphere should be maintained in the barn at night to allow horses to rest peacefully. Constant commotion in the barn aisle or blaring radios are not conducive to a horse's well-being.

Only in a secure environment can the flight animal, the horse, find a peaceful sleep. This is crucial for their overall well-being, as you can surely understand. Just like humans, horses can sleep standing or lying down. They typically sleep for about five hours throughout the day, with up to three hours spent lying down. The REM sleep phase, characterized by rapid eye movements, is essential for dreaming and can only occur while lying down. This phase differs from deep and light sleep phases, which can also happen while standing.

When horses experience sleep disturbances, it can have direct and indirect consequences. Direct effects may include injuries from horses collapsing while standing in REM sleep due to exhaustion. Indirectly, fatigue can lead to stress, which in turn can contribute to the development of stomach ulcers.

Horses suffer from separations

Horses can form strong emotional bonds with their herd mates as well as with humans. When a horse friend is lost due to a move or change of ownership, it can lead to significant stress for the remaining horse, potentially causing irritation of the stomach lining and ulcers. Horses that frequently experience changes in ownership or location should receive proactive support to maintain their gastrointestinal health.

The death of a herd member can also trigger feelings of grief in a horse. It is advisable to allow the herd access to the deceased horse for about a day so that the horses can say their goodbyes.

Similarly, imported horses may experience homesickness, leading to health issues or behavioral problems. Affected horses often appear disengaged and depressed.


Feeding Mistakes of Leisure Horses

Less is often more - this also applies to horse feeding. A natural feeding approach for the steppe animal horse is therefore advisable. Sufficient roughage should be available, as well as good quality water, as it can help prevent blockages.

Many owners overestimate the work their horse does. A leisure horse, which is exercised for an hour daily (riding, lunging, etc.), performs light to moderate work, so the concentrate feed rations should be adjusted accordingly and the feeding recommendations on the respective feed should be followed. For horses with sensitive stomachs, it may even be beneficial to completely avoid concentrate feed and meet energy needs through hay. Mineral supplements should be added according to requirements, and a mash or slurry can support the digestive tract.

Furthermore, the feeding plan should not be constantly changed just because the owner wants more variety for their horse. The gut microbes need time to adjust to every feeding change.

Over- and under-demand in training can trigger stress in horses

"Put the horse first" is the motto when training many leisure horses, but what does that entail? The goal is to have a sensitive, gentle hand, an empathetic rider, and training that is tailored to the abilities of the horse, meeting their needs. The term "leisure horse" should not be misunderstood here. A horse that is not shown in competitions still holds the same value and needs. The well-being and health of the horse should be the top priority in equestrian activities.

Horses can be over- or under-worked in training, both of which have negative effects on the animal's psyche. Overworking can lead to stress, resistance, fear, and muscle tension. If you underwork the horse, behavioral issues due to boredom, lack of motivation, and stress-induced stomach problems can arise. It is now up to you to adjust your training demands and tailor the training to your horse's abilities. Short, focused sessions are usually more effective, as the concentration span of horses is only about 20 minutes.

What leisure riders can learn from competitive riders


Competition horses often follow a meticulously planned training schedule, where feeding, housing, and training are optimized to achieve the highest possible success. Even a horse that is simply ridden for pleasure should be treated with the same level of respect as a competition champion. The gastric health of our horses is paramount, whether they are leisure horses or dressage stars. Particularly in recreational riding, which covers a wide range of activities, we must not underestimate the abilities of our horses.


Stomach ulcers spare no leisure horses. Everyday situations can cause stress in horses. As an owner, it is your responsibility to observe and monitor your horse to prevent stomach ulcers. Are there things in your daily stable routine that can be changed to make your horse feel comfortable?

Are you looking for a suitable stomach product to support your horse in case of gastric irritation or ulcers, or do you want to supplement preventatively? We have compiled a comparison of 19 stomach products for you to gain an overview of the options available.

More on the topic:

Explore our dedicated page for more information and links on gastric ulcers in horses. Discover effective strategies for preventing and managing gastric ulcers in horses.

Learn about the key facts, symptoms, causes, and prevention of gastric ulcers in horses.


Equine 74 Gastric

The long-term solution

Buffers the excess acid in the horse's stomach instead of blocking it.

Equine 74 Stomach Calm Relax

In case of acute stress

Supports the nervous horse stomach in stressful situations.