NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Horse owners gathered on a rainy Feb. 11 to learn more about gastrointestinal health and management at the Horse Management Seminar hosted by the Rutgers Equine Science Center and Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

Dr. Burt Staniar from Pennsylvania State University got things started with “How does physically effective fiber behave in the equine gut? – A visual tour.” 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.

Dr. Amy Biddle, from the University of Delaware, presented “The Equine Microbiome.” She said the horse’s gut is home to an entire “zoo” of microorganisms — bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi — that help to release the energy found in feed. Each different organism has a specific function in a complicated cycle.

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Dr. Biddle also shared her research about how the variety and numbers of each different microbe varies according to what is being fed. Also thin, ideal and overweight horses each have different microbiome profiles.

More research is needed and horse owners can help by participating. See https://udel.givecorps.com/projects/5849-equine-microbiome-project  for details.

Probiotics have become a popular among horse owners, but Dr. Biddle said science has not yet caught up with consumer demand. Some probiotic products may not have the right organisms and without prebiotics (food for the probiotics to survive) the product may not be effective.

Many attendees had questions about ulcers. Dr. Mary Durando from Equine Sports Medicine Consultants focused her presentation on “Equine Gastric Ulcers Syndrome.” She explained that only the bottom half of the horse’s stomach is protected from the highly acidic gastric juices. Horses produce acid all the time, whether they eat or not. Horse evolved to be constantly eating and modern horse keeping often involves two or three meals a day. Gastic ulcers have been found in all kinds of horses regardless of use. However, ulcers were found in up to 100% of race and endurance horses during competition season.

Although there are clinical signs, the only way to determine for sure if a horse has an ulcer is to scope it. There is also only one FDA approved medication to treat ulcers in horses (Gastroguard) and the treatment is expensive.

Some products that help buffer the stomach acids have been or are being studied and shown to be effective in preventing formation of ulcers but won’t likely resolve existing ones. Diet and management can also go a long way in preventing ulcers.

Dr. Carey William presented the results of the “Gastrointestinal Health and Management of Eventing Horses” survey. Owners were asked 50 questions. The incidence of presumed or diagnosed ulcers was highest inThoroughbreds and lowest in draft crosses and ponies. The incidence also rose with the level at which the horse was competing.

Doctoral student, Jennifer Weinert, talked about some her future research, and “Microbiome and Metabolism of Horses on Pasture.” The study will look at the effect of grazing on the microbiome . test pastures will have warm or cold season grasses and a mixture of both.

To find out what her results show, plan to attend the 2019 Rutgers Horse Management seminar.

See www.esc.rutgers.edu for more information about the Rutgers Equine Science Center.

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