Ulcers in Horses: Signs, Effects, and Natural Solutions

Ulcers in Horses: Signs, Effects, and Natural Solutions
Ulcers seem to be more common now than they were, say, 15 years ago,  but I would wager that we just didn't know what we were dealing with then. Ulcers are erosions of the stomach lining and they are usually painful.
Signs of ulcers can include reduced/ poor appetite, weight loss, dull skin and hair coat, attitude/behavior changes (especially when saddled), colic, reluctance to work, and impaired performance.
If you can see some of these signs in your horse, it may be wise to get a diagnosis. There are a  couple of good ways to do that. First, you can have your vet run a  gastroscopy (AKA "scope") down the horse's throat and to the stomach to literally see if there are ulcers in the stomach. It is possible to have ulcers in the hindgut though and those will not be visible with the "scope."


 
 Another way to diagnose ulcers is with acupressure. This may be something that your vet can do or your CESMT (like me) or another natural health provider could be capable as well. You can check this link to get an idea of what this diagnosis technique involves.
Once  you have determined that your horse is suffering from ulcers, or at  risk for developing them, you have some changes to make. Ulcers have been determined to be caused by high-stress levels, seriously restricted grazing/ pasture time, and diets high in carbs.
First of all, it isn't always possible to completely eliminate our horse's  stress- especially if they are highly competitive athletes that travel frequently. One thing you can do that will benefit your ulcer prone horse is to make sure they get plenty of turn out time. Horses are NOT meant to be stuck in a stall for hours at a time. They were built to be grazing freely and moving constantly throughout the day. Wild horses usually only rest for short periods in between grazing. Not only does the consistent grazing keep their digestive system moving (keeping natural buffers for the stomach lining healthy and strong), but it also plays a role in their circulation.  It may not always be possible to provide extended turn out time even though it is ideal. If that is the case, the best thing you can do for your horse is to make sure that they don't go long without forage. 
In addition to pasture time, changing how and what you feed can also help reduce your horses'  stress level and improve their stomach health. The one thing that always seems to surprise people is to NOT feed your horses on a strict schedule. This may seem counter-intuitive, but when your horses are used  to being fed at the EXACT same time EVERY day, they experience extreme stress if you are late. In fact, you may have already noticed your horses standing at their gates and calling out to you and pawing the  ground as they catch sight of you coming out to feed. Though it can seem cute to have them calling out to you, it is a stress response. If you are more flexible in your feed times you will find that your horses are still out in the field when you come out to feed and while some may run to their feeders, you will find others will calmly and casually make their way in. This also helps when there is something that prevents you from feeding "on time." None of your horses' will be panicking that you aren't there to feed them- they will not think twice if you are an hour later than usual.
One of the biggest contributors to ulcers is poor quality, high carb foods. Concentrates or grains are generally high carb and your horse's digestive system was not made to process them in high quantities. Again, if the horse is an athlete or a  "work" horse, it may not seem possible to completely eliminate grains from your horses' diet. There are foods that you can incorporate to nurture the stomach and also, replace some of the grains your horse is consuming. First, alfalfa hay provides natural buffers for the stomach lining. Remember to avoid long periods without forage- going more than 6  hours in between meals has been shown to increase the prevalence of  ulcers. Second, you can feed high-fat foods (think stabilized rice bran, raw pumpkin seeds, and flaxseed oil)  to replace the carbs for energy and also protect the stomach lining. You can also feed raw cabbage and aloe vera juice to support a healthy digestive system in your horses. Third, make sure your horse ALWAYS has access to clean, fresh water (easy enough 😉). 
Finally, if you use straw as bedding, you may need to reconsider- if your horse eats a sizable about of straw, they are adding  to the formation of ulcers.
To recap- give your horse as much pasture time as possible. Make sure they always have water.  Don't let them go long without forage- the more quality forage they get the less grain they will need. Supplement when necessary and add some flexibility to your feeding schedule.
Keep your vet in  the loop as you treat your horse for ulcers- you may need help or more detailed guidance depending on the severity of the ulcers and the goal is to have happy, healthy horses- two heads are better than one 😀 

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Essential Oils for Horses: Why and Purity

Essential Oils for Horses:  Why and Purity
We use essential oils in all areas of our life to reduce the number of toxic chemicals we come into contact with and to stay above the wellness line. We use oils to clean, cook, garden, and to keep pests at bay. We also use oils for personal care, and to support the body systems of our family and our pets. Essential oils aid us to prevent many unpleasant health issues. Oils can be used on people and animals with similar results in both, with few exceptions. All oils mentioned here are good for your horse but double-check before using on other animals.  

Essential oils are: 
  • Non-toxic to the horse.
    • Just like the human body, toxicity is a huge problem for our animals. 
  • Easy to use.
    • Essential oils for horses can be used exactly in the same manner as with humans. Horses can inhale the oil directly from the bottle or from your hand. They can be placed directly on the body or placed in their feed. 

  • Extremely beneficial for training and rehabbing horses.

    •  I mostly train young or green horses, or re-train problem horses that have people problems! The emotional component of this training is the most difficult portion and it is what makes me good at my job. The oils  are another tool for the toolbox. I can cut through training issues faster than I ever could before and I can see horses releasing emotional baggage before my eyes. Sometimes it is miraculous! 

  • Good for riders too!

    • Riders are continually dealing with fears, insecurities, and nerves.  These emotions and others affect our horse on a daily basis. The oils can help release many of these emotions, produce a synergistic effect between horse and rider, and ultimately improve our riding! In addition, a healthy rider/ caretaker can take much better care and be more of a participant in the horse/ human relationship.

Purity 
In the United States, there is no rating system for essential oils. The closest we get is an FDA requirement that states in order to label a bottle of essential oil "pure" or "therapeutic grade," the contents of that bottle must contain at least 5% essential oil! I don't know about you, but I prefer my essential oils to contain 100% essential oil- not some unidentified substance that could be hazardous to myself or my animals.
Before you purchase, check to see if the company grows its own plants, owns its own fields, and controls the  entire process from Seed to Seal- from the farm to the sealed bottle.  Pesticides, pollution, previously farmed land- all of it can affect the quality of an oil. 

How do I use Essential Oils for Horses? 
This is true for both people and horses: there are 3 main ways to get oils into your system:  topically- rub it on the skin;  digest and cook with it; or diffuse and inhale, which can be the most effective method because it doesn’t have to pass through the digestive system.  
How do I know which oils to use for Equine Aromatherapy? 
Using the oils is a bit of a learning curve for sure, but the best thing you can do is research oils for a particular use or choose oils that you would use for yourself.  

Want more information about using more natural methods for you and your horse? I have a great Facebook group that discusses just that!  I'd love for you to join us HERE.