Anatomy of the Digestive System
1. anus 6. liver
2. rectum 7. diaphragm
3. base of cecum 8. esophagus
4. small intestine 9. large colon
5. kidney 10. cecum
11. small colon
Many people believe that horses have a very delicate digestive system. What they don't realize is that it is only the domesticated horse that has so much tummy trouble, and it is exactly that domestication that makes our horses so prone to having trouble at all! You see, the horse was designed to be a wild creature. He was given great speed and endurance to keep him safe. In order to be able to escape from danger, he had to be able to run quickly. Now you know that you can't run very fast after you've eaten your Thanksgiving Dinner. An overstuffed belly makes anyone feel lethargic, something a wild horse could not afford to do.
In addition, horses need a fair amount of calories, particularly if they spend time running away from their enemies, whether it's a wild cougar or a horse-devouring plastic bag. So horses were born to be noshers. No three square meals for them, thank you very much. They'd rather eat all day long. However . . . poor domesticated Dobbin. His owner wants Dobbin to shine (literally) at the County Fair. Consequently Dobbin spends most of his day in a stall, with one hour of turn-out a day. He gets 2 big scoops of 12% protein grain as well as 1/2 cup corn oil, some rice bran and 3/4 of a bale of alfalfa hay every morning and every night.
The problem is that Dobbin's intestinal tract wasn't designed to handle big meals, nor was it meant to be empty most of the day. Horses have relatively small stomachs, but food moves through their intestinal tract fairly quickly, hence the rapid accumulation of horse poop in the paddock. Dobbin's tummy gets overdistended, which makes him a little cranky. In addition trying to digest all that grain produces alot of gas. Since Dobbin can't politely belch, he either becomes tremendously windy or very uncomfortable. When his belly hurts, Dobbin tries to lie down and roll, which can be disasterous. So Dobbin's owner, who loves him very much, has set him up for gas colic, and even worse, a twist of the intestine.
The take home message: talk to your vet about an appropriate feeding plan for your Dobbin, and then follow it!
Click on these two buddies for a guide to equine nutrition!