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by Julie Goodnight, juliegoodnight.com

Research shows that more horses have ulcers than don’t. The statistics are overwhelming and in some regards, it’s easier to assume a horse has ulcers than to assume he doesn’t. According to the AAEP (American Association  for Equine Practitioners), up to 90 percent of racehorses and 60 percent of show horses, as well as non-performance horses and even foals are affected by equine gastric ulcers. It can affect any horse, regardless of age or circumstance, and often it is a man-made condition, brought on by stress.

Definitively diagnosing ulcers in horses is a challenge because of the specialized equipment needed to scope the horse’s stomach, but a horse with ulcers may show signs of frequent colic, lack of appetite, depressed attitude and a failure to thrive—often referred to as a “hard keeper.” Sometimes we treat the symptoms but forget to address the cause. What causes a horse stress is different for each horse and may be hard to suss out, but it could be something as obvious as a heavy training/travel/competition schedule or something as subtle as a bully in the herd. Confinement, training and performance, feeding procedures, relocation, instability in the herd, isolation or separation could all be contributing factors. I believe we owe it to our horses to make their lives as comfortable and stress-free as we can, and even then, some horses will still have ulcers. 

Besides addressing lifestyle and reducing stress, there are some helpful things you can do to prevent ulcers. Free-feeding a low-protein grass hay will help a lot—keeping the digestive track full, as it was designed to be, is a good place to start. Pharmaceuticals are now available to heal ulcers and are highly effective, but also highly expensive. To me, prevention is key by keeping the horse’s lifestyle as stress free as possible, feeding free choice hay and a balanced diet and by giving them plenty of access to other horses.

Julie Goodnight is an internationally respected trainer and clinician with experience in many types of training. Learn more at juliegoodnight.com

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