Ulcers in horses are a real and ongoing problem for performance horses in training. As their workload increases and physical fitness improves, horses may begin to show symptoms of gastric ulcers.
One of the main causes of ulcers in horses is a phenomenon known as ‘gastric splashing’. This is largely due to the design of a horse’s stomach and it’s incompatibility with high intensity exercise.
Horses are designed to ‘trickle feed’ so their stomach should only have a small amount of food passing through at any one time. As such, their stomachs have evolved to cope with stomach acid only on the lower third of their stomach. This protected, mucousy area is called the Glandular Mucosa, as shown above.
When a horse is in training and the amount of high intensity exercise increases, the stomach contracts and the acid splashes up onto the non-protected area of the stomach. This is known as gastric splashing and is a common cause of ulcers in horses.
Gastric ulcers occur more frequently in performance horses than pleasure horses. A study of racehorses in Australia found that the incidence of ulcers increased 1.7 times for every week the horse had been in training.
Ulcers in horses: Treating the performance horse
A simplistic solution would be to feed a back-to-basics diet of 100% fibrous forage. However, this is not be ideal for performance horses – as with less digestible energy, they may lose their competitive edge.
A more realistic solution is to treat with medications such as Omeprazole.
In addition, it’s important to never exercise your horse on an empty stomach. You should always offer some hay or chaff while tacking up. This will help create a buffer for the gastric splashing.
For a simple way to check your horse for gastric ulcer symptoms, without having to call the vet read more here.