Keep your horses gut healthy in the summer heat

It’s finally a fabulous hot summer, you are riding, competing, trail riding and generally getting in a lot more exercise with your horse. But how do you manage to maintain good gut health in all the heat?

What are the issues?

1/ Work intensity (related to how much heat is generated by the horse during exercise) and how each individual horse can deal with this depends on factors such as their fitness level. For example it may require an unfit horse much more extreme effort to achieve an activity easily handled by a fit horse.

(That part is pretty obvious to most of us, yet something that may be easily forgotten in the excitement and enjoyment of summer riding.)

2/ Fluid and electrolyte losses in sweat are greater for intense efforts but don’t forget that horses working for prolonged periods at lower levels may accumulate the equivalent sweat losses!

3/ An additional factor for horses working for prolonged periods is less opportunity to eat and drink and possible changes in diet. Especially when you are away from home competing.

What happens?

High core body heat can reduce the number and diversity of organisms in the digestive tract.  Reduced efficiency of fermentation and lowered generation of volatile fatty acid fermentation products means less efficient use of fibrous feeds and less efficient absorption of nutrients and water.

This all contributes to immune dysfunction and other health issues for your horse.

What can you do to help?

1/ Make sure your horse has been properly conditioned for the work you do. If you only ride in the weekend don’t expect your horse to be able to handle huge amounts of prolonged exercise.

Just like a person, if you only go to the gym on Saturdays you wouldn’t sign up for 4 days of mountain climbing!

2/ Guarantee adequate intake of salt/electrolytes and constant supply of water to avoid the disrupted intestinal function that comes with dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities.

3/ Protect the gut:
  • Supplements containing ingredients like L-glutamine, Marshmallow root and Aloe Vera can help soothe irritated linings while mannanoligosaccharides (a class of carbohydrate) are a substrate for growth of beneficial bacteria. Also, beta-glucans provide gentle stimulation for the local gut immune system.
  • Probiotic supplementation can be helpful in restoring beneficial gut bacteria populations.  This supports good fermentation, absorption and immune function.  A blend of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast (for example Brewer’s yeast) and bacterial species is best.

4/ A good diet helps support fermentation and levels of fatty acids as well as promoting good hydration both in the intestinal tract and throughout the body.

  • Feed easily fermented and high soluble fibre supplements for example; Fructooligosaccharides, widely used in animal nutrition for their prebiotic properties as bio-regulators of the digestive flora and function. Psyllium husk fibre (always wet before feeding) or beet pulp.
  • Feed a supplement with good digestive enzyme (amylase, lactase, cellulase, phytase, lipase, protease) activity as these assist with small intestine functions so that the hind gut does not get overloaded.

It is crucial to consider the effects of exercise and heat on the gastrointestinal and activity integrity of your horse.

Take home message is to have in place a gradual increase in exercise combined with reasonable work expectations and a diet targeted to support the gut.