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There are a number of health problems that can be related to feeding, of which a few affect the feet. Here are some of the most common conditions that you may encounter as a horse owner.

A choking horse may suddenly back up from his feed bucket and appear anxious. He may extend his neck, stand with his head down and legs spread wider than normal and snort, cough or make gagging noises. If the choke is not resolved in a few minutes saliva may start to drip from the mouth and nostrils(which can appear as a greenish or brownish froth containing particles of feed). Choking horses are generally not in danger of suffocation but it can be become serious if the obstruction is not removed.

Choke is usually caused by swallowing feed too quickly or swallowing something that the horse has not chewed properly so it has not been moistened by saliva. Concentrate feed is the most common cause of choke but horses can also have problems with apples, carrots or other treats swallowed whole. Older horses with poor teeth are more at risk if they are fed tough or fibrous feed they cannot chew.

If enough saliva is lost the horse is unable to drink leading to possible dehydration. The esophageal tissue at the blockage site may begin to swell and become irritated and even ulcerate. Scar tissue from choke increases the chance the horse will choke again.

Determine why the horse is bolting his feed. Is competition an issue if he is fed in a group? The horse might be overly hungry by meal times in which case feeding small forage meals prior to concentrates may help.

Poor teeth will mean the horse will chew less and therefore produce less saliva to moisten his food. Low saliva production may also relate to dehydration and can occur as a result of prolonged exercise, heavy lactation, low salt intake or poor water quality.

Horses that are ill or exhausted may not have the energy to chew their feed well so wet feeds can reduce their chance of choke. Also using soaked beet pulp or cubes soaked to a mash can help high-risk horses.

**DID YOU KNOW…….that putting large, smooth stones in your horse’s feed bowl
will slow his eating and help prevent him from bolting his feed?**

COPD, ‘the heaves’ or broken wind.

If your horse has a clear nasal discharge and no temperature, appears to have some trouble breathing and coughs during exercise you need to watch him- he may have RAO. You might also notice a loss of condition.

If your horse has a clear nasal discharge and no temperature, appears to have some trouble breathing and coughs during exercise you need to watch him- he may have RAO. You might also notice a loss of condition.

Affected horses can have certain sensitivities to stable and hay moulds, pollen or other allergens. These sensitivities can lead to constriction, irritation and mucous production in the small airways of the lungs. Seriously affected horses use their abdominal muscles to help expel air from their lungs and develop a visible ‘heave’ line on the barrel.

Horses having problems in the stable can become symptom free when turned out. If that is not possible you need to take measures to limit the horse’s exposure to mould spores and dust.

Store hay and bedding as far away as possible from the stable. Ensure the muck heap is not right outside the stable. Wet or steam hay or use conserved forages such as haylage which is dust free. Eliminate straw as a bedding source and change to shavings, shredded paper or modern pellet bedding. Improve the air quality in the stable with better ventilation.

Some simple changes in the feeding program can also help horses cope with this disease. Some respond well to changing from coarse mixes to cubes which can be soaked into a mash to settle any dust or cereal particles. Research has also shown that horses with RAO have lower plasma concentrations of Vitamin C(a strong antioxidant) than healthy horses. This suggests that horses with RAO will benefit from feeds or supplements that contain high levels of antioxidants, which might aid in preventing further damage to airway tissues.


Equine colic is loosely defined as abdominal pain and is one of the most common health emergencies seen by horse owners. Signs of discomfort include rolling, kicking, pawing and sweating. Evidence says that it is most common between the ages 2 and 10 but that is when horses are under more stress from frequent travel and competitions. This condition in its various forms is still the biggest killer of horses today.

There are numerous causes of colic but something as simple as a change in management can predispose him to this condition. So make any changes gradually, especially if they involve his diet. Other causes of colic include a high-cereal or concentrate diet over a forage only one, with the risk increasing as the amount of concentrate increases. Horses given a different type of feed, mouldy feed or more or less than their normal concentrate ration are also at risk.

Prevention:- Horses receiving 100 per cent of their forage from grazing usually have the lowest incidence of colic with the risk increasing with the time spent in a stable. Some horses do need concentrate feed for their energy requirements but consider building the diet around forage and feeding concentrates only as needed. Providing part of the calories as fat(oil and rice bran) helps to reduce the dependence on cereals.

that water deprivation increases colic risk?

Make sure your horse has access
to plenty of fresh clean water all year.**

The squamous cells in the upper region of the horse’s stomach do not have a mucous layer and do not secrete bicarbonate to protect them against gastric acid. Their only protection comes from saliva production and if this is inadequate gastric irritation occurs and ulcers may develop.

The highest incidence of ulcers is seen in performance horses and is usually the result of the way these horses are managed. Ulcers are extremely rare in horses kept out at grass. Horses evolved as nomadic grazers with digestive tracts designed for the continual consumption of forage. Meals of cereals and pelleted concentrates or extended periods of time without forage can lead to excess gastric acid output without adequate saliva production.

The symptoms of ulcers can show on various ways and definitive diagnosis usually requires an endoscope of the horse’s stomach under sedation. Signs that may suggest a horse has gastric irritation include, irritability, poor coat, reduced performance, loss of body condition and reduced appetite.

There is a lot of study going on in the veterinary world tying ulcers to behaviour problems like cribbing. If your horse is a cribber you should make sure it is not just ulcers bothering him.

Providing plenty of forage stimulates saliva production which helps buffer and neutralize stomach acid. Treating ulcers requires the use of drugs that inhibit gastric acid production or neutralize the gastric acid. Your veterinarian is the one to consult in these matters.

**DID YOU KNOW………that horses’ stomachs secrete acid continually,
whether they are fed or not?**


Laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive laminae which lie between the horny outer wall of the foot and the inner hoof capsule. The sensitive parts of the foot are contained in a comparatively rigid box which does not allow for the swelling that is one of the symptoms of inflammation.

As far as diet-induced laminitis is concerned, carbohydrates(sugars and starches) are digested in the small intestine but if it gets overloaded the excess undigested starch travels to the hindgut where it is rapidly fermented by gut bacteria. This causes a disturbance and shift in acidity and a release of toxins into to the bloodstream. When these toxins reach the feet this leads ultimately to laminitis.

Grass-related laminitis is often considered to be a disease that greedy ponies are prone to in the spring but in fact it has become a year-round risk to more and more horses. Grasses store excess sugar as fructans which are fermented in the horse’s hindgut by microbial population in the same way as fibre. Large amounts of fructans can upset the balance of the gut and cause the proliferation of fructan fermenting bacteria leading to a subsequent disturbance in hindgut acidity.

The content of fructans in certain grasses is variable and large changes can occur within hours and in different temperatures. Grass stores more fructans in its stems than in its leaves so horses who are turned out on to stubble after a hay crop will potentially be eating relatively larger amounts of fructans. Conversely well managed fields which are grazed by sheep or are cut will have a high leaf–to-stem ratio and potentially fewer fructans.

Limit access to grass by reducing the time spent in the paddock, fencing off a small area or fit a grazing muzzle to your horse or pony. If he is stabled keep his gut moving by feeding hay and consider reducing his cereal intake by feeding a high-fibre diet. If your horse is being fed concentrates for extra energy, divide the daily ration into as many meals as possible.

**DID YOU KNOW………that cold, sunny days mean a high level of fructan
as the grass is active but cannot grow.**

In humans this is often referred to as Type 2 Diabetes and relates to an abnormal metabolic state brought on by human obesity. For example cells in muscle, adipose tissue(fat) and the liver that become insulin-resistant then require larger concentrations of circulating insulin to stimulate glucose uptake.

Diets high in simple sugars -for example glucose- have been associated with insulin resistance in animal and human studies and the common practice of feeding starch-rich and high-energy feeds with high glucose levels may promote insulin resistance in horses. Obese and sedentary horses can also be prone to insulin resistance which also increases their risk of laminitis. Some ponies and horses are commonly insulin-resistant, especially overweight ones who are not regularly exercised. Research shows there appears to be a genetic susceptibility to the development of insulin resistance, which may explain why some pony breeds are particularly at risk of laminitis.

Follow the same management protocol as for laminitis.


1/ Always ensure your horse has access to clean water. Water is the single most important nutrient and restricted water intake will suppress the horse’s appetite and reduce feed intake resulting in loss of condition. An adult horse needs about five litres of water per 100kg of body weight for maintenance(that’s about 25 litres or 5 gallons for a 16hh horse). **DID YOU KNOW……..that putting apples in water buckets encourages drinking?**

2/ Feed according to body weight of your horse and increase the quantity and type according to the level of work. Do not feed in anticipation of the work your horse is about to do, only for the work done.

3/ Feed plenty of fibre, but remember fibre comes in many forms and not all fibre in beneficial to your horse so choose wisely. Hay and haylage varies considerably in quality but also in its energy/calorie content. It is also deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. Choose a high quality fibre which provides you with a consistent analysis. This should provide you with some control over your horse’s diet.

4/ Make any dietary changes gradually. This applies to forage as well as to prepared feed. Suddenly turning your horse out o new grass or changing the grass which is available to him could be detrimental to his digestive health potentially causing loose droppings or in some cases even colic. Be especially aware of dietary changes when changing barns or moving to a new area where the feed may be very different to what your horse is used to.


There are various inexpensive ways of keeping your horse’s water from freezing in cold weather. If you are lucky enough to have 120V handy you can get a bucket with a heater installed or get a floating or sinkable heater to put in your water tank.

If 120V is not an option you can float a ball in the water (just make sure it’s big enough the horse can’t swallow it) or insulate the water bucket (you can buy insulated buckets in stores now). Or just use an ice cooler (take the beer out first) as a water bucket. Remember the bigger the water surface area, the less likely it is to freeze over.

Or you can always do the cheap Scottish option and use the power of manure. Get a muck bucket and fill the bottom with fresh manure then place a water bucket inside it and stuff the gap down the sides with hay. The water should stay clean and warm.


(Note that no information given on this website should be considered
a substitute for consulting your veterinarian or farrier)

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