Feed to reduce the risk of ulcers before riding – The horse

Q I work a fluctuating schedule from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. My goal is to ride on my way home from work, but the barn feeds at 7:30 a.m. Therefore, I will be riding before my horse has lunch. I’m worried about riding him on an empty stomach and that might increase his risk of developing gastric ulcers. Is this true, and if so, is there anything I can do to reduce the risk?

A. You are right to be concerned because horses secrete stomach acid 24 hours a day. When they eat, they secrete saliva, and saliva is a good buffer for the stomach because it contains sodium bicarbonate. Therefore, in their natural environment where they eat 16 or more hours a day, horses buffer secreted stomach acid almost constantly. When we feed horses there can be long periods when they are not eating and stomach acid is not buffered.

The other benefit of eating is that the food itself can have a buffering capacity and will also help create a carpet on top of stomach acid. Longer stalk forage helps make a better mat. The stomach secretes acid only in the lower glandular part, and the upper part of the stomach remains mostly empty and does not secrete acid. The lower gland cells secrete mucus and other protective substances, which can protect them from acid, but the upper squamous cells do not.

A good fibrous mat above the stomach acid should prevent the acid from having much contact with the upper squamous cells and, due to the lack of a built-in acid protection mechanism, this mat is very important. When long periods of time elapse between forage meals, the protective mat begins to shrink. The stomach is mostly empty about six hours after finishing a meal. When horses work and move quickly, the stomach contents move more and are pushed up by the contracting abdominal muscles. This means that the likelihood of acid coming into contact with poorly protected squamous tissue increases. So a good rug is especially important when horses are being worked on.

When you arrive at the stable to ride, if your horse has not been fed since the previous night, I suspect that the majority of the fibrous mat has moved into the digestive tract, and there will have been no saliva production for a long time. time. If he works on this now empty and poorly buffered stomach, there is certainly a greater risk that over time ulceration will occur.

The good news is that there are a few quick and easy steps that can reduce this risk. The first is to give hay while you groom and prepare to ride. This will stimulate saliva production and create the fibrous mat. If your barn doesn’t allow you to help yourself to hay, there are chopped forages you can feed. Some of them are designed to minimize the risk of ulcers. Alfalfa has better buffering capacity than grass hay so if you have a choice, feeding a small amount of alfalfa hay or chopped alfalfa in this situation would be ideal. As little as a pound of alfalfa pellets might help.

Another option in addition to or instead of pre-race hay would be to feed a good stomach pad when you get to the barn. The thinking here is that if you make the acid less acidic, it won’t erode the stomach lining. Marine-derived calcium (from seaweed) has proven to be a particularly effective buffer. Research has shown that this source of calcium buffers the stomach quite quickly. It can be found in products designed specifically for this purpose and in some other forms of commercial foods.

There are also supplements that contain coating agents that coat the stomach lining to help protect it from acid. However, they may not act fast enough for pre-departure use. I would recommend contacting the manufacturers of these products to find out if their products are effective in the short time between ingestion and your ride. However, they will help with the overall management of the ulcer, as will products designed to help the stomach lining become more resilient, so you may decide to incorporate them into your horse’s diet.

Clyde P. Johnson