There's been a lot of talk on health programmes about the human gut 'microbiome' and how an imbalance can adversely affect the immune system, sleep, anxiety, and weight, . In fact some claim that it's an even bigger influence on our health than our genes. For a long time many 'alternative' practitioners have been telling us that the basis of all health begins in the gut but now, at last, the health industry at large is putting a lot of research into this area and discovering connections to different ailments all the time. For instance, last year scientists made a link between gut health and brain health. So, why shouldn't it be exactly the same for our equine friends?
Fortunately, many vets and owners are more aware of ulcers and how easily, through stress or diet, horses are prone to getting them. This has been a really positive move forward for horse welfare, but now it's time for the gastrointestinal microbiome to become the hot topic in equine health.
Forward thinking vets and scientists are claiming that research into the gastrointestinal microbiome could be a real game-changer. An imbalance in horses has been linked to colic, laminitis, obesity, metabolic problems, Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) and behavioural problems but scientists think that there is still more to be discovered.
To prevent and treat disease and improve mental and physical wellbeing for both horses and humans means a two-pronged approach. Firstly, research is being done on manipulating pre and probiotics to improve the gut microbiome. Secondly, they are looking at what causes an imbalance in the first place. For horses, this means looking into horse management, such as feeding, grazing and particularly stress, which is known to upset the balance of the microbiome. Also, research has been carried out into the affect of intense exercise on the equine intestinal microbiome.
The incredible moment a horse revived its stricken stablemate that was about to be put down, was caught on camera.
The shire horse named Beatrice was found collapsed in her stable after suffering equine colic or severe abdominal pain.
Her heart rate and blood pressure rose to near fatal levels. Putting Beatrice to sleep looked like the only option, and they set a time limit as to how long they would go on trying to get her to stand.
With just 20 mins to go, Ms Lipington went to let Beatrice's companion, Beau out of his stable.
‘He spent the whole day in the stall next door, watching Beatrice. He was just quietly watching, he didn’t eat anything. Just watched.
Beau made a bee line for his stable mate and managing to reach her over the stall partition wall, he began to nip and bite her neck and to lift her head by her halter. Beatrice had turned over and started to make efforts to get up.
'In six hours we couldn't get Beatrice up and we decided to let the stallion Beau have a try. He came in and started biting at her neck and he got her up in just 10 minutes.
'They have a pretty long term relationship with each other. They've been together 10 years. They’re just always together and they don’t really mix with the other horses.
‘They bicker a lot. Beau is a big, muscular and strong stallion but he gets pushed around by Beatrice. She always gets the food first.
‘She’s the best mare we have. They’ve had four foals together.
Beatrice (left) and Beau pictured with Mr. MacIntyre
She has since made a full recovery.
We’ve heard reports from a number of horse owners that colic levels have risen recently with many blaming this on the large amounts of rain we’ve had.
Is the large amount of raining causing colic?
We’ve conducted some research into this ourselves and here are our findings:
• Whilst there appears to be no evidence that links excessive rain with colic, temperature changes and the winter weather cause horses to change their routine and eating habits. Also temperature changes can effect the sugar levels in grass which can effect the gut. These changes can then lead to colic.
• Winter is a time where colic can increase. The main reasons for this are: changes to the horses diet, water that’s too cold, and reduced movement/exercise time.
• The subject of water consumption appears to be a significant factor. It’s essential that horses have access to water 24/7 and that the temperature of the water is not too cold. If water temperature is below 7 degrees, a horse will tend to consume less water. This can then lead to decreasing water and lubrication in the gut, increasing the chance of impaction-induced colic.
• “Stress caused due to the rain” does also appear a factor which can lead to colic.
Tips to reduce the changes of colic in colder months:
• Give horses 24/7 access to water that is at a temperature between 7 – 18 degrees if possible and add more water to hard feeds if possible.
• Keep an eye on the weather. If sudden drops in temperature look likely, manage your horses appropriately i.e. put a rug on them, or bring them in. Equally if temps go up make sure they're not over-heating in too many rugs, as this can lead to dehydration.
• Be aware of how temperature is affecting your pasture. Frosted grass or grass under snow pushes out a lot more sugars. Also, because of unseasonably warm weather we've had in much of the UK the grass has been flushing. It's not only horses prone to laminitis that need to be careful either, as sugars effect the balance of bacteria in the gut.
• Ensure there is access to good shelter.
• Give your horses plenty of good quality roughage. Standing for long periods in the stable without food isn't good for them as horses are trickle feeders and their digestive systems are adapted to be digesting constantly. Hay is also an effective heating fuel.
• Make sure your horses teeth are checked regularly.
• Think about adding a gut balancer which contains pre and pro-biotics to your horses feed as anything that stresses the horse, including changes to management and diet, can change the bacteria population in the horse's gut leading to colic.
• Avoiding long periods in the stable and ensuring that your horse is getting plenty of exercise will help the digestive system stay healthy.
From our research we can't find any evidence to prove that increased rainfall is causing more colic. However, winter weather often changes how we manage our horses and causes them to change eating and drinking habits and this can therefore promote colic. Changes in temperature can also change sugar levels in the grass - so that is something definitely worth monitoring.
Be savvy, keep a close eye on them for any changes in behaviour and ensure your horse has a good water supply, gets enough quality roughage and has plenty of exercise during the winter months.
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