In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Tao of Horse, Foraging and Digestion

 Ingestion and Elimination.

Tout le cheval est dans son intestin. 

Horses evolved to ingest and chew two thirds of the time, 70% of each and every day. When we do not facilitate this, horses chew anyway, some take up cribbing to fulfill their need to chew.
Horses should always have a bite of appropriate forage to chew. Clean, shiny, straw can be used as a forage extender. Of course, horses need to walk miles each day as well, so hand grazing is an excellent enrichment for stalled horses. When we see a cribbing horse, we know the horse went one time too often without a bite of hay or grass. Horses need to chew all the time to survive, and if forage to chew is deprived too long, some horses crib to survive.

We know the health of our horses by observing their eliminations.

By now everyone knows a horse should never be without a bite of forage unless it is troubled horses we are looking for. We know that cribbers and windsuckers were without a bite of forage one time too often. Horses need to chew and move most all the time. If we take chewing and moving away from horses, they find unwelcome ways to chew and move, don't they? What with all that cribbing, weaving, pawing, etc that you have all been reporting that we see in mismanaged stables we need to better manage stabled horses to support their behavioural health and physical welfare.
Many of you have taken nutrition classes. What is the volume of a horse's stomach, please? Colon? Small intestine? The length, please? Does a full gut slow a horse down? How much poop a day, how many BMs? Urination frequency please? Of course, we all know now that locomotion is essential for proper digestion, as well as for proper respiration and metabolism. Everything horse is dependent on their near-constant movement. If we keep horses from moving, they find other ways to move, es verdad? And their veterinarians stay busy, yes.
The color of poop and pee, the smell, volume, consistency, all critical, all things every horse guardian should know about their horse. To know a horse's bowel and bladder habits is to know your horse's health status. Colic does not appear without notice. Nor do gastric ulcers. In equine behavior we learn to read horses, and that means constant and daily observations of their eliminations, please. Pay attention, por favor.
Locomotion is essential to digestive elimination. As you all know, when a horse moves, they most often eliminate. Colic is most often caused by deprivations of movement and forage. So there you have it. The leading cause of death in stabled horses is colic, and colic is caused by nutritional mismanagement. We know the cause of colic, and it is in inappropriate stabling and feeding practices. Horses need to move about miles each day, my friends, so get out there and move those horses standing about, please. 
We know where our horses have been. In natural settings, horses had miles and miles of prairie and they took care not to soil their range. When horses are confined, they have no choice but to eliminate where we have put them. With limited space, their pastures become soured by manure and urine, rendering the grass unfit to graze. Pasture management is a huge factor in maintaining appopriate grass to graze. As well, stalls need to be cleaned several times a day to re-create natural. Locomotion is essential to digestion, respiration, metablism, and hoof health. Everything about the horse is dependent on abundant locomotion and near-constant chewing.
The accumulation of manure can be massive when space is limited, not to mention unhealthy. Digestion is a constant process oft impaired by stabling, as colic surgeons attest. Often the quality of stables can be determined by the efficiency and tidiness of manure management. Manure harbors bloodworms, nemesis of the stabled horse. Manure sours the grass. Manure deteriorates hoof health. Get that manure out of the stable please, unless you like veterinary bills.
Colic is seldom, if ever, noted in natural settings, where horses take great care to avoid grazing where they have eliminated. One thing I have noticed, is that farms where I am called to deal with colic sure have a lot of horsepoop around. Piled-up manure usually means the horses aren't moving much. The accumulation of manure correlates directly with the accumulation of veterinary bills. The more manure allowed to accumulate, the more horse unthriftiness. 
24/7 forage, friends, and locomotion is what keeps horses healthy.
Of course as we all know by now 24/7 forage provides consistency. With 24/7 forage there is no digestive change, my friends, and often no colic, as feral horses attest.  All systems in the horse are interdependent and interrelated. When the digestive system fails due to horsefolk changing  diet inappropriately, the other systems follow suit quickly. With horses, death comes fast, a compassionate survival characteristic. 
Speaking of interrupting vital digestive flow, always let your horse eliminate when he or she wants to eliminate, please, especially when riding. Horsefolk should seldom if ever interrupt the flow of the digestive tract, as the digestive tract of a horse is something that operates non-stop. To move a horse is to stimulate the bowel. Riding stimulates the bowel and woe be you to interfere. If you do not want your horse to eliminate in the ring, then properly train and feed and prepare your horse to avoid that indiscretion. Remember, horses use elimination to communicate to people, as well. Horses reflect what they think of you and your horsemanship by pooping, you know.
A constant monitoring of the feces production and urination is required to monitor and assure the health of our stabled steeds. Horsefolk know road apples inside and out. Road apples reflect health and illness for those able to see, smell, and count.
Digestive disturbances are best addressed early, and this requires keen observation of what our horses are eating, when and in what quantities and quality, and the outcome. You all should know how many times each day your stabled horse eliminates. It behooves you to recognize any change in your horse's elimination pattern immediately. Very important, as well, is your constant monitoring of your horse's borborygmi and respiration, especially with horses taken out of their routine to attend competitions. Remember salt. Do not forget water. Horse need their vibrissae to properly handle changes in feed and water, so please do not deprive them of those critical sensory structures, por favor. I hear repeated reports that a horse will not eat or drink for three days after their vibrissae are clipped. Colic surgeons have flourished. Have you seen the cars their kids drive?
Although we have little use for our eliminations, the survivalist horse utilizes manure to communicate with other horses. Horses use their acts of elimination as well as the scents of their manure and urine to enhance their survival in ways in which we can only sit back and wonder.
We are nearly halfway through the course, as we forage into more serious behaviour territory. 

Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.

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