If you have a horse with gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as chronic colic or gastric ulcers, you may need to look at how you manage him compared to other horses. Most of the research that goes into designing feeds and feed supplements is based on the “healthy" horse. But what about feeding those special needs horses with a GI or recovering GI problem?
Veterinarians recommend cutting the concentrate intake of these horse and increasing access to forage. If your horse’s energy requirements are too high to transition them onto a diet of just forage, try to move them to an alfalfa-based pellet to try to keep the pH (acidity vs. alkalinity) of the stomach to a higher, i.e. a more basic level. Also, by maximizing forage, the horse will have fewer times during the day that his stomach is empty as he will be grazing or munching on hay for more hours of the day. This also helps to keep the pH of the stomach more normal. However, keep in mind that certain forages are better than others. For example, a diet higher in legumes like alfalfa would achieve higher pH levels than one consisting of just grass hay. Horses are designed to walk and graze for the vast majority of the day rather than be kept in stalls and fed at measured times. Turnout with ample good grazing room is ideal for reducing stress that can also be a cause these GI issues.
For your veterinarian to help treat a GI issue, they need to be able to determine the severity of the issue to know how to advise you. In order to do that, they need to see the inside of the stomach with a 3M view scope, as well as how the horse is doing on the outside. This diagnostic exam is an extra charge that owners are often reluctant to authorize. But with so many GI treatment options on the market, some more effective than others, it’s the most reliable way to put together the right treatment plan.
If you find your horse has GI issues, you can make changes to their feeding routine to help prevent a flare-up. NOTE: Always consult your veterinarian before implementing a change in a feed regimen. Changes in feed are typically best done slowly over a period of time. Adding grazing turnout time can also be a preventative.