Something we have all dealt with at some point as a horse owner is colic. A horse is not an animal that was meant to be confined in a small pen or stall like most horses in today’s world. They are meant to be in pastures foraging all day long to meet their forage intake requirements. A horse’s stomach is only 7% of their digestive tract which requires them to consume in small increments and digest the material through their digestive tract on a continuous basis.
With this in mind, one can deduct that the increase in horse colic today is basically an issue caused by man containing the horse and forcing it to consume its daily intake when it is fed rather than throughout the entire day by constant grazing. Another increase in colic is caused from horses not having available an adequate supply of clean, fresh water. Dehydration contributes to colic in horses as they become compacted through dehydration. It is important to maintain a constant fresh supply of water for your horse.
Some horses will also see an increased risk to colic when they go through a change in their environment or a change in their activity discipline. If horses are usually active and their regiment changes quickly without a change to their diet, colic could persist. In addition to the change in activity, a change in the type of hay being fed can contribute to colic. Hay of poor quality is less digestible and causes impaction. When this is coupled with a low hydration rate you have the perfect recipe for colic. Sometimes the dehydration will occur with a change in weather. When temperatures drop, horses will not intake the required amount of water to hydrate properly. This too will increase their exposure to colic.
Things to consider to help lower the risk of colic:
*Feed consistently on a set schedule. Since horses are normally suited to constant grazing, it would be best to feed your horse multiple times a day. Since I personally cannot feed multiple times a day, I like to feed my horses’ their entire amount of forage in the morning and allow them to eat all day at their leisure. I will normally find hay in their feeder as late as 4-6 pm from a 6 am feeding. This demonstrates to me that the horse is grazing throughout the day on an as needed basis. If I am feeding concentrates in their diet, I will feed these in the morning as well. I have had conversations with some individuals that feed the forage in the morning and the concentrate in the evening. But whatever your feeding schedule is, the key is to remain consistent with that regimen. And always, a horse turned out on pasture with good quality forage is the best practice to avoid colic when properly managed.
*Be sure to keep your horse on a good parasite control program. One should examine the fecal matter of the horse to determine what type of deworming protocol should be taken. It is a good idea to consult with your vet to determine which level of action you should use with your wormer. A broad spectrum wormer that is safe for your horse’s level of infection and activity is the best route to pursue. It can be detrimental to use an aggressive type parasite control regimen that is too aggressive for your horse’s level of infestation.
*One area that is often overlooked by a number of horse owners is the condition of the horse’s teeth. A horse’s digestion process starts with the teeth. Their teeth will grow approximately 1/8 inch each year, therefore, you need a continuous dental care program for your horse. Horses teeth continue to rupture and grow throughout their life. If their teeth do not align correctly, they cannot chew their food and begin the process of breaking down and digesting their food.
All of the information provided can help limit the exposure of your horse to colic. In my opinion, the most important aspect of the items discussed is feeding consistency. Be sure to feed your horse on a consistent basis with quality feed products and provide a source of clean fresh water. But remember, all the other practices are important as well. With the high value of performance horses in today’s equine market, these steps are a small investment relative to the value of your horse. One should do everything possible to keep his/her horse as a partner for many years.
Written by Kent Wollert