I am grateful to Dr. Kerry Ridgeway for the information I share below. Dr. Ridgeway presented at the Pacific Hoof Care Practitioners (now Progressive Hoof Care Practitioners) Annual Conference in Sacramento, California in September of 2013. To learn more, check out his Equine GastroIntestinal Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) eCourse at Equine Therapeutic Options (teachable.com). To learn more about the Progressive Hoof Care Practitioners, click here.
Ulcers are an acid burn of soft tissues and are often found in the stomach and hind gut of horses, though they can occur anywhere in the digestive system. As grazers, horses have relatively small stomachs that secrete 1.5 quarts of hydrochloric acid every hour, not matter if there is food present or not. Stomach ulcers are incredibly common because of the standard practice of feeding 2 times per day, and the subsequent long number of hours horses go with empty stomachs. Add to that the sloshing around of their stomach acid when they are ridden or worked, and we have yet another reason ulcers are so common in our beloved equine friends.
Many so-called behavior issues, such as the 'witchy' mare, the girthy horse, the spooky horse, or the horse where 'the lights are on, but nobody is home' could be more appropriately diagnosed as pain from ulcers (or pain elsewhere in the body!)
In addition to behavioral problems, some signs and symptoms of ulcers in horses include resistance to movement, chiropractic problems, colic, diarrhea, weight loss, picky eating, and the hair on the abdomen can also become dry, brittle, and even change colors.
In a study done of 565 horse autopsies, 65% of the performance horses and 45% of the non-performance horses had hind gut ulcers. In another study, the following percentages of horses had stomach ulcers: 90% of racehorses, 30-60% of show horses, 67% of eventing and endurance horses, and 40% of dressage horses.
Because veterinarian diagnosis of ulcers requires scoping, I encourage owners to presume their horse has ulcers if they exhibit symptoms. Palpating certain meridians on the horse's body and watching for reactions is another useful diagnostic tool (see the EGUS course link above to learn more).
In addition to treating the ulcers, the root cause undoubtedly needs to be addressed. Going too long between meals, excessive stress from isolation and lack of movement and stimulation, and high grain diets all contribute to ulcers. Aim to give your horse as close to a 'natural life' as possible.... a forage-based diet, the use of slow feeders if not on pasture, room to move, and friends. Other necessary components for a healthy horse include but are not limited to: minerals balanced to their forage, bodywork, proper hoof care, dental care, proper saddle fit, and plenty of bio-mechanically correct movement.
I prefer to use herbal remedies whenever possible, so below you will find a simple, yet effective herbal remedy for ulcers in both humans and horses. In addition to, or instead of the recipe below, you can also use aloe vera juice. In either case, add 4-8 ounces of the tea and/or aloe to your horse's daily ration of pellets/beet pulp/mash.
Acute Ulcer Formula
1 part Marshmallow root Althea officinalis
1 part Chamomile Matricaria recutita or Anthemis nobilis
1 part Yarrow Achillea millefolium
1 part Calendula Calendula officinalis
1 part Plantain Plantago major
1/2 part Comfrey Symphytum officinale
1/4 part Goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis
Prepare as an infusion: Place herb mix in your favorite tea pot or glass jar, and fill with boiling water
(1 Tbsp of herbs per 1 cup water). Cover and steep for 15-30 minutes, strain and enjoy! Not to be used long term. Omit Comfrey in case of compromised liver. For best results, leave Marshmallow root out of the herb mix and infuse separately in luke warm water for 4 hours - overnight. Strain and add to the separate strained infusion.
Credit for this formula: Sajah Popham, Materia Medica Monthly www.evolutionaryherbalism.com.
FDA Disclaimer: This formula has not been evaluated by the FDA, is not intended
to substitute advice from a physician, and is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications, please consult with your physician before starting new supplements or herbs.