Exercising horses are known to have a reduced pH (acidity) in the “sensitive” part of their stomachs, possibly due to stomach contents being pushed there during exercise. Stress is also thought to be a part of the development of ulcers in athletic horses. Because even pastured horses can develop gastric ulcers, the exact causes of ulceration remain unclear, and studies devoted to determining the causes of ulceration have yielded unclear and inconsistent findings.
How, then, can we better feed horses to minimize this important problem?
One researcher from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine* recommends:
- Offer forage on a free-choice basis, particularly if the forage is alfalfa (lucerne).
- Offer forage in a “nibble bag” so it takes longer for the horse to consume its meal and provides more time for the horse to produce saliva, which is basic and can buffer the stomach pH.
- If a concentrate is fed, use one with more fat than nonstructural carbohydrates (oats, barley, corn) as the energy source.
- For athletic horses, turn them out on pasture between working sessions.
Although there are still many questions unanswered regarding the factors either expediting the development of ulcers or those with a protective effect, these suggestions are thought to help the gastrointestinal health of athletic horses.
*Merritt, A.M. 2013. Current thoughts on EGUS prevention feeding strategies. Proceedings of the 6th European Equine Nutrition and Health Congress.