Friday, 5 March 2010

Ad lib haylage

At the National Equine Forum the format was lots of short (15-20 min) presentations on a very wide variety of subjects, from the horse in art to exercising endoscopy - there was certainly no chance to get bored, and if you listened to something that didn't seem appropriate, then within 10 minutes or so it was bound to change. Which is a rather relevant parallel given the rest of this post ;-)

One of the very practical presentations was on gastric ulcers. Professor Pat Harris ran through recent research and very sensibly provided bullet point, down to earth information which can be incorporated into everyday horse management as a way of minimising ulcers.

I already knew that the system here, of feeding ad lib haylage, with high fibre and low starch hard feed, and allowing constant access to the track, was a safe one, and unlikely to cause gastric ulcers, but it was fascinating to have the specific risk factors set out.

High starch meals, inadequate fibre and intermittent feeding (with horses left without fibre for 6 hours or more) are the key risk factors, along with not having access to water during turnout, interestingly. Exercise worsens the ulceration, probably because a horse fed improperly has no way of preventing acid from "splashing" into the non -glandular area of the stomach, unlike a properly fed horse.

The way we manage horses here is designed to be good for their feet, but its also good for their stomachs and at the end of the day it just reaffirms the need to keep a horse like a horse. They evolved to eat in a particular way and to live in a particular way. If you try to stray too far from that then you are fighting against nature, and problems are likely to result.

This isn't supposed to sound smug, by the way - far from it - we've ended up both with the tracks and the diet we feed after a huge amount of trial and error and many, many mistakes. But the interesting thing is that by approaching hooves holistically, you usually find that you benefit the whole horse :-)

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