The equine digestive system is a complicated structure, for such a large animal it is incredibly sensitive. The horse evolved as a grazing animal, so its digestive system is designed to process small amounts of food all day long.
With better education more horse owners understand the benefits of sticking to a more natural diet that is high in fibre, but the smallest dietary change can easily cause this delicate system to become disrupted.
The health of the digestive system has a huge impact on the overall health, wellbeing and performance of a horse.
Here are 10 interesting facts about this most vital part of equine anatomy:
- The digestive system starts in the mouth, with the chewing process releasing saliva that acts as a lubricant for the food passing down the oesophagus and into the stomach.
- The stomach is relatively small in relation to the size of the horse and holds 9-15 litres.
- It is possible for food to remain in the stomach for just 15 minutes.
- Frequent, small meals are essential to prevent the stomach from becoming empty as this increases the risk of ulcers from excess acid.
- The small intestine measures 15-21 metres long and is where most of the nutrients are absorbed, including proteins, simple carbohydrates, fats and vitamins A, D and E, with any remaining roughage moving into the hindgut.
- The bulk of digestion takes place in the hindgut, which is made up of the caecum, large intestine and colon.
- Unlike the acidic conditions of the stomach, the optimum hind gut environment is a near neutral pH. Insufficient fibre in the diet can lead to the hindgut becoming more acidic.
- It is impossible for horses to be sick, as the oesophagus only works in one direction, food can only go down and not come up, due to the angle at which it connects to the stomach.
- The entire digestive process can take anywhere from 36-72 hours.
- Live strains of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae are commonly used in equine nutrition to enhance fibre digestion in horses. The overall effect of adding yeast to the diet is the stimulation of fibre digestion, as well as stabilisation of the hindgut environment and microbial ecosystem. This results in an increase in feed efficiency i.e. what the animal can get out of feed.
Nutritionally supporting the digestive system is a simple and positive step towards producing a healthy horse inside and out, whatever their age or lifestyle.
The Lifeforce Range of all natural, daily digestive aid supplements from Alltech are designed to benefit the horse at every stage of life, from breeding stock to pleasure and performance animals.
For further information please visit www.lifeforcehorse.co.uk or telephone 01780 764512