Provide your equine with forage prior to and during prolonged exercise. While trail riding, offer the opportunity to graze along the way. Why? Fiber creates a mat of sorts which prevents acid splashing in the stomach.The equine stomach produces acid 24 hours a day (16 gallons!) in preparation for constant uptake and can empty in as little as 15-20 minutes. Chewing activates saliva production (an alkaline substance rich in bicarbonate) , which buffers gastric acid. An empty stomach allows unbuffered gastric acid to slosh and bathe its lining causing discomfort and may induce ulcers. (Learn more about how forage helps buffer gastric acid and prevent ulcers.)
The lower part of the stomach, in addition to producing the acid, receives protection by also producing mucus. The upper, or non-glandular part, has no protection and thus is even more susceptible to damage. The upper portion has squamous epithelium – similar to our skin. Having fiber in the stomach is especially important during any physical activity/ exercise causing the splashing of acids.
How Slow Fed Free Choice Forage Assists in Colic Prevention
Slow feeding prior to exercise requires the horse to eat smaller amounts over a longer period of time. Chewing activates saliva production which buffers gastric acid. Increased chew time yields higher saliva quantities creating an overall higher saliva to forage ratio and further reduction of particle size. This also decreases the risk of impaction colic associated with exercise.
Additional Benefit of Free Choice Forage; Hydration
The equine cecum serves as a storage site for water and electrolytes if forage is present. Fiber consumption increases water consumption and the extra water is held in the cecum until absorption. During exercise when dehydration may be an issue, the cecum can help keep the horse hydrated and supply him with electrolytes that are lost in sweat. Net, net, forage creates a reservoir of fluids in the cecum.
Take Home Message
Equines are designed to have access to forage 24/7. In nature, horses will voluntarily take breaks to sleep and rest for periods of time, typically no longer than an hour. Wild horses are not subjected to prolonged periods of time at the trot, canter and gallop. In domestication, involuntary periods of time without forage can be physically painful and mentally stressful. Mental and physical experiences are synonymous in that each has an influence on the other. Prevention of physical discomfort can help you and your beloved companion enjoy your rides and outings equally.
Helpful How-to Resources for Slow Feeding
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Monique Warren is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.