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Horses have digestive tracts designed for a high fibre diet. The majority of the digestive tract is devoted entirely to the digestion of fibre whereas only a small part is designed to process the starch from oil, protein and cereals. Their hind gut is filled with a bacteria population that processes fibre. These micro-organisms are entirely responsible for digesting fibre as the horse is unable to produce enzymes to deal with the fibre itself. The micro-organisms break down the fibre and also produce ‘volatile fatty acids’ (VFAs).  On a high fibre diet, these VFAs are a weaker acid so the horse’s gut is within a suitable range of acidity. If a high starch and low fibre diet is introduced, the starches from the cereals produce much stronger acids which makes the gut too acidic and problems can occur. Excessive heat and gas may be produced and toxins released which can increase the risk of certain conditions.

Horses only produce saliva when they are chewing; this saliva helps to neutralise the acid produced in the stomach.  Horses are ‘designed’ to chew- feeding small meals of starchy cereal removes this- that’s why it’s so important to ensure fibre intake is always adequate, even with horses receiving high energy diets.

As mentioned, without fibre, a horse’s eating habits can change from constant grazing to a few short meals.  As well as digestive problems, this can lead to boredom and result in bad habits such as cribbing and windsucking.  Although diet is not the only cause of behaviour problems, feeding fibre is always the first suggestion when trying to solve these issues.

Fibre is a slow releasing form of energy, so horses can sustain work for longer periods and those horses requiring stamina will benefit from a high fibre/low in starch diet. 

Posted: 21/07/2014 14:31:22

Laminitis is a disease of the foot found in hooved animals, particularly horses and ponies. It is said to be caused by a number of factors and can vary from slight lameness to a condition that is fatal. It could be said that there is a threshold over which laminitis is triggered and certain horses and ponies are prone to being tripped over that threshold. As laminitis develops, the attachment of the pedal bone to the hoof wall starts to fail.

Triggers of laminitis can include:

  • Mechanical damage e.g. trotting too fast down a rough and stony path or repeated physical trauma to the feet.
  • Lameness of a limb means the horse has to carry excessive weight on their other limbs.
  • Stress caused by, for example, being separated from horse friends and travelling.
  • Illness – The toxins released during illnesses such as colic, getting rid of the placenta after foaling or diarrhoea could cause the onset of laminitis.
  • Being genetically predisposed.
  • Hormonal causes.
  • Obesity
  • Access to too much high sugar grass.
  • Too much starch – e.g. eating too much cereal or cereal based feed.
  • Too many carbohydrates.
  • High insulin levels.

In order to manage a pony or horse at risk of laminitis, it may be an idea to:

  • Reduce their sugar and starch intake to a minimum – limit their access to lush pastures and cut cereal out of the diet.  Provide suitable grazing, and if necessary, muzzle the horse or use electric fences to limit the access he has to lush green grass.  Avoid pastures sown for cattle that may be heavily fertilised and sown with grass unsuitable for horses and ponies.
  • Avoid letting the horse graze when there has been a frost as this increases the sugar levels in the grass.
  • Leaving too long between foot trimming sessions or shoeing can cause stress and damage to the feet. Trimming and shoeing regularly means that any early warning signs of laminitis will be spotted too.
  • Monitor their digital pulse. A vet will show you how to do this!
  • Feed a high fibre diet. However, do not make changes in the diet too quickly.  Make sure this is done gradually.
  • Control calorie intake. Avoid letting the horse become obese.  Increase the horse’s exercise in order to burn off calories but if the horse is not fit, just increase the work he does gradually.

If you suspect your horse or pony has laminitis it is essential to call the vet. Fast diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference when it comes to recovery.

Posted: 09/07/2014 12:00:07