Equine Gastrointestinal Health

The Changing Landscape of Equine Gastrointestinal Health: Modern Challenges, Greater Expectations, comparisons to the Past and how to achieve greatness!!


The equine gastrointestinal (GI) system is a marvel of nature, designed for continuous foraging and processing of fibrous plant material. If you think this through, this diet(naturally, predominantly grass) is wet, slippery and very easily digested.  However, the domesticated lifestyle of modern horses has imposed new challenges on their digestive health. Unlike their free-roaming ancestors, today’s equines often endure restricted grazing if any, high-concentrate diets built of largely molasses flavored, non digestibles. The feed of today is built of ingredients that the horse likely would not eat without sugar for taste.  Then mix in the stress of competitive training, stalling, artificial lighting, interval feeding schedules.  The list goes on for sure. This article is the introduction of a series exploring the most prevalent gastrointestinal issues challenging horses now, more than in years gone by.  This article will hopefully offer insights into the evolving nature of equine care and sound innovative non medicinal options to maximize your horse’s health and therefore, their performance.

The Impact of Modern Care and Feeding on Horse Health

Modern Diets and Gastric Ulcers: Horses evolved to graze throughout the day, actually 24hrs a day.  Research has shown horses free to roam throughout the entire day will travel an average of 13 miles each day.  This slow steady grazing helps to keep the system moving.   Remember that the 24hr grazing schedule also moves the foodstuff through the stomach continuously as the stomach continuously produces large amounts of Stomach acid.  Modern feeding practices, with meals given at intervals, can lead to excess acid, increasing the risk of gastric ulcers. Studies suggest that up to 90% of racehorses and 60% of show horses develop gastric ulcers due to stress and feeding regimes.  Understanding that the stomach very small in the horse and is literally a pass through, has created a new focus on horse health beyond the stomach.  We will explore the reasons for the challenges and what has and can be done to rectify these challenges. 

Stabled Life and Colic: The stabled life limits movement, which is essential for gut health. A lack of exercise can slow gut motility, leading to colic, a leading cause of death in horses. When the system slows, with today’s diets, gas tends to build up throughout the small intestine through natural fermentation.  Research indicates that management practices, including regular turnout and forage-based diets, can help reduce the incidence of colic.  Understanding that horses are hind gut(Cecal) fermenters, system slowing is detrimental, impeding performance, effecting attitude and potential colic or death. 

The Role of the Gut Microbiome in Equine Digestive Health

Microbiome and Overall Health: The horse’s gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem that plays a crucial role in nutrient absorption, immune function, and even relevant and obvious, equine behavior. Disruptions to this microbiome, through antibiotics or poor diet, can lead to conditions like dysbiosis, where harmful bacteria outnumber beneficial ones let alone a decrease in hindgut pH due to fermentation challenges.  The hind gut, cecum, is the fermentation vat that truly breaks down the food.  This fermentation is 100% driven by the microbiome.  Understanding the bacterial balance is a science all its own but the fact is simply balance and speed.  In following articles, we will deep dive into this topic to illuminate the how, why and of course, what you can do to help. 

Age, Obesity, and Microbiome: Recent studies have shown that age and obesity can alter the gut microbiome’s composition, potentially leading to metabolic disorders like Equine Metabolic Syndrome, which was less common in the past.  The modern equine diet, again, has a majority responsibility in this change.  Support of the internal environment within which the microbiome bacteria work their magic is more important than ever.  Acidic environment due to a slow moving system will drop the pH of the internal environment which then changes the balance of healthy bacteria to a more unpleasant mix.  One sure way to know this is the case is the condition of older horse feces and smell.  You all have walked into a barn and there is that one horse that, well, Stinks..  This is a case in point.  Incorrect balance of bacteria and gut speed, overtime, results in this eventual unfortunate daily occurrence.  Fecal water syndrome, Diarrhea, small batches of manure frequently and of course, the total lack there of,    all can be evident in older and younger horses alike.  We see more and more horses of all ages battling with all of these issues and this again, is due directly to the changes in feed ingredients and modern horse care practices. 

Comparing Modern Challenges to Past Challenges

Parasite Control: In the past, parasite load was a significant concern, but modern deworming practices have largely brought this under control. However, these practices have led to a new issue: drug resistance in parasites, which requires innovative management strategies.

Fiber vs. Grain: Historically, horses consumed a high-fiber diet with minimal grain. Today’s high-grain diets can lead to hindgut acidosis, disrupting the delicate balance of the hindgut and leading to behavioral and health issues.  In the articles following in this series, we will review and look hard into the necessary, the digestive and the performance improving ingredients and the horse’s ability to utilize all to its benefit.   

Specific Modern Challenges in Equine Gastrointestinal Health

1) Gastric Ulcers: Caused by excess stomach acid and stress, prevalent in performance horses.

2) Colic Variants: Including impaction colic due to decreased water intake and movement.

3) Hindgut Acidosis: Resulting from fermentation challenges in the hindgut, affecting fiber digestion and absorption.

4) Equine Metabolic Syndrome: Linked to obesity and insulin resistance, with a growing incidence in modern horses.

5) Dysbiosis: An imbalance in gut bacteria, often due to antibiotic use or dietary changes.

6) Food Sensitivities: As diets have diversified, so have sensitivities to components like gluten or certain proteins.

7) Impaction Colic: Often related to dehydration or poor-quality forage.

8) Sand Accumulation: Occurs when horses ingest sand with forage, more common in areas with sandy soil.

9) Parasite Resistance: A consequence of over-reliance on anthelmintics.

10) Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea and Fecal Water Syndrome: Resulting from disruption of the normal gut flora.

Potential Interventions and Strategies

Gastric Aids and Hind Gut pH Stabilization:   Managing stomach pH is the purpose of all Gastric Ulcer aids.  The majority of the gastric ulcer issues can be maintained by soothing the lining, bolstering by mimicking the protective mucosa that protects the stomach lining from the damaging effects of the hydrochloric acid.   Basic Animal Health Gut Health Xtra Strength Gel does exactly this as well as introducing elements that get the system moving at optimal speed.   This combination works in amazing ways as support for acute esophageal, gastric and duodenal ulcers.  Your horse, if off its feed or a slow picky eater will feel more like eating and will start acting and performing as they should. 

Hind Gut pH stabilization is ultimately more important than the gastric issues.  The horse’s stomach is actually only 9% of the entire equine digestive tract.   Likewise, the Cecum, where the food breakdown actually takes place, is 60% of the system.  This is the reason hind gut health is of the utmost importance but is disregarded and made an afterthought.  Basic Animal Health has been totally focused on hind gut health for the past 10 years.  What we have learned is very lengthy and conditional so we will dive into this most important subject in the articles to follow in this series.   There is so much todiscuss and reveal so please join us.  There are videos available on YouTube under Basic Animal Health.    

Probiotics and Prebiotics: These supplements can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, potentially reducing the risk of dysbiosis and improving overall digestive health by properly increasing and regulating hindgut pH.  There are also specific probiotics that can enhance many aspects of your horse’s life.  This is a talk for another time. 

Dietary Management: Implementing a forage-first diet, mimicking natural grazing patterns, and providing constant access to water can help prevent many modern GI issues.  Maximizing high quality forage and minimizing concentrated feeds while increasing fat is the key to lowing incidence of gastric and hind gut issues. 

Stress Reduction: Ensuring regular exercise, social interaction, and minimizing changes in routine can reduce stress-related GI problems.  Although this is often not possible in modern equestrian circles, the fundamentals therein can help even in a rigorous show schedule. 

Future Directions and Research

Basic Animal Health’s ongoing research into equine gut health is focusing on understanding the microbiome’s role in disease prevention and performance. Innovations in diet, management, and medical interventions hold promise for addressing the modern challenges faced by our equine companions.  All of the Basic Animal Health formulas are built on natural ingredients to help your horse’s gut health. A healthy horse is a happy horse, and health always starts from within, naturally.

If you are looking for somewhere to start, take a look at Basic Animal Health’s GutHealth Xtra Strength. The gel is designed as a loading product for a faster response. The liquid and pellets are designed as a daily supplement to help keep your horse healthy every day.  For full support go to www.basicanimalhealth.com.


The gastrointestinal health of horses has become a complex interplay of modern management practices and the biological needs of these animals. By recognizing the challenges posed by contemporary lifestyles, equine caretakers are adopting Basic Animal Health supplement strategies that support the well-being of horses, ensuring they lead healthy, productive lives.

Horse Supplements

GutHealth Gastric and Hindgut

ShowFocus for a BetterRide

TrailerRide Calming Supplement

Pure Gold Extreme


O2 Advantage


Livestock Supplements

GutHealth Gastric and Hindgut

ShowFocus Xtra Strength Gel Supplement for Livestock

TrailerRide Calming Supplement

Dog Supplements

GutHealth Xtra Strength for Dogs

Allergy-N-Immune for Dogs

Joint-N-Tissue for Dogs