What has a four-gallon stomach, but can’t burp or vomit? Hint: their systems function best when half full so all day grazing is a must.
Ok, so maybe that wasn’t a total head scratcher. The answer is in the title.
Still, it’s an important piece of horse trivia to cover. It partially explains why their systems are so sensitive. Events that would be commonplace for other barnyard animals- training, food changes, mild stress, travel- can wreak havoc on an equine’s digestive tract.
Looking for ways to reduce your digestion disruptions? Start with these horse nutrition basics.
Horse Digestive Anatomy 101
We’ve already established the impressive capacity of a horse’s stomach. Though believe it or not, this is actually considered to be on the smaller size for an animal of their weight.
The entire intestinal tract stretches more than 100 feet. More than three times longer than a human’s! The entire system is capped with a one-way valve of sorts called the cardiac sphincter.
It’s a thick muscle known for its brute strength. Once food (or air) crosses its threshold, it’s rare, if not impossible, for it to escape from stomach to esophagus.
This, in turn, is responsible for a horse’s tendency toward colicking, otherwise known as an undiagnosed digestion issue.
The Importance of Pasture
To stay healthy, horses require constant access to forage each day and night. In total, they should be consuming 1-2 percent of their bodyweight in hay or grass. For most full-grown horses that translates to somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds per day.
It’s one reason high quality hay is so important. Feed them from the bottom of the barrel and you can go ahead and plan for a colic-induced vet visit.
You can support healthy digestion by using a haynet to slow down your horse’s pace and keep their neck upright. The longer they spend at the trough, and the less dust they have to contend with, the less likely they are to experience an upset stomach.
Healthy Horse Feed
Keep in mind that hay alone may not provide the caloric or full nutritional spread needed to keep your horse at peak health. However, a mixture of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that are typically found in high-quality horse feeds can.
When looking at horse feed labels, keep an eye out for vet-recommended prebiotics and enzymes. They’re all important for a balanced hindgut.
Also, be sure and up their intake during extreme heat or cold and after extensive exercise.
If you still suspect your horse isn’t eating well, or you can’t kick the colic, ask your vet if you need to supplement their diet with a multivitamin or beet pulp. Some horses can also benefit from extra omega-3 fatty acids, especially if they don’t have year-round access to a fresh pasture or grass.
Committed to improving the gut health of your horse? Consider these suggestions when deciding on a horse feed regimen!