NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The Rutgers Equine Science Center presented the latest progress in equine research at its “Evening of Science & Celebration” on Nov. 8.

Dr. Burt Staniar from Pennsylvania State University was the keynote speaker and talked about how the type of feed given to horses affects their overall health.

Ulcers are an issue in horses, especially those used in athletic endeavors, he said. Human athletes also suffer from digestive issues, he said.

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He said that the effect of the particle size of different feeds and how it affects digestion has been studied in cattle, but not in horses. But horses are not cows and more study needs to be done, he said. He said the larger the pieces of feed are, the more the horse has to chew. The more it chews, the more saliva is produced. More saliva means the acids in the stomach are better buffered and that prevents ulcer formation. He said that horses will chew hay twice as much as pelleted feeds.

Using a garbage can complete with a pink unicorn head, he demonstrated the size of an average horse’s digestive system. The digestive system was made up of everyday objects such as a cheese grater to represent teeth, various sized hoses for the esophagus and intestines, with tennis balls representing what comes out at the end.

Staniar also demonstrated how particle size changes the structure of the feed mass in the horse’s system. He put hay and grain in a blender with saliva (a.k.a. water) to simulate chewing. When the diet was mostly hay, the larger hay particles stayed on top while the bottom was a mix of liquid and smaller particles. In the horse’s stomach the bottom portion would be more acidic while the feed floating on top would be less acidic. This is important because only the bottom half of the horse’s stomach is protected from the gastric juices.  When Staniar put in pelleted feeds, even “complete” feeds the “chewed” feed mass became a paste like consistency even though the same amount of water was added. 

The evening also included an update on a study by Dylan Klein, who recently received his Ph D. In the study, Standardbreds that had just been turned out were exercised five days a week for 12 weeks and then extended exercise for 60 weeks before being turned out for another 20 weeks. Throughout the study, their weight, body composition, fat free muscle mass and aerobic capacities were monitored.

Klein concluded that training improves aerobic and athletic capacities, but that is not dependent on improvements in body composition.  During the study, body composition worsened after long-term training and then after the horses stopped working, but their aerobic and athletic capacities were not compromised. Klein noted there were limitations. Only geldings and mares were used, so it is not known if intact horses would have the same results. The information gained may still be useful in making decisions about managing the equine athlete.

Doctoral student, Jennifer Weinert, talked about her research on the effect of grazing on the microbiome and overall health of horses. Test pastures were planted with warm or cold season grasses and a mixture of both. Cold season grasses grow best in spring and fall while warm season grasses to best in summer. Finding the best combination could save horse owners money because they would have to provide less supplement feed due to decrease pasture growth, erosion and pasture damage could be lessened and the horses’ health overall could benefit, Weinert said.

The study got off to a rough start thanks to the unusual weather this year but some useful data was obtained, she said. The nutrient content of each type of grass was monitored and the amount of time the horses spent grazing. The research will continue in 2019.

Also during the evening:

Kennis “Buttons” Fax was presented the Spirit of the Horse Award.

Mortonhouse Farm in Long Valley, N.J. was presented with the Gold Medal Horse Farm Award.

For more about the Equine Science Center can be found at

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