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Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome - 2020 Conference - Part 11b

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

Hello and welcome back to my Horses Inside Out Conference 2020 - Anatomy In Action blog series.

We have reached Part 11b now. This is the second installment sharing with you the presentation by vet Richard Hepburn, who presented on day 2 of the conference in the afternoon.

Please see my previous blog for the first installment, to find out more about Richard and his presentation on how to prevent respiratory disorders in order to prevent poor performance from your horses.

gillian higgins horses inside out Richard Hepburn vet MRCVS

Today I would like to share with you Richard’s points on EGUS (Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome) as a limiting factor in our horse’s performance and how we can prevent it.

Experimentally squamous gastric ulceration has been shown in horses undergoing a 6 week training program to:

  • Limit aerobic development

  • Reduce time to fatigue during maximal exercise

  • Reduce stride length development

In cases where horses were found to have EGUS, owners and trainers had often reported ‘poor performance’ which improved on resolution of EGUS.

A combination of screening clinical signs and performing a gastroscopy are required to identify affected cases.

gillian higgins horses inside out conference 2020 Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome effect on exercise

Stress causes EGUS in horses - but what could be causing that stress?

  • Transport

  • Exercise

  • Stabling

All these things increase serum cortisol and serum gastrin.

Could this produce more gastric acid?

Development of EGGD (Equine Glandular Gastric Disease) - that’s ulcers in the lower acidic part of the stomach - have been shown to have been associated with:

  • Horses with more than 2 handlers

  • Horses with less than 3 rest days

gillian higgins horses inside out conference 2020 Horse stress causes Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Richard next discussed some of the feeding risks to avoid in order to prevent ESGD.

EGSD is (Equine Squamous Gastric Disease) - these are in ulcers in the upper part of the stomach, sometimes referred to as ‘splash ulcers’ as they are caused by the stomach acid splashing up onto the ‘unprotected’ upper part of the stomach.

These risks include:

  • Non ad-lib forage - the risk of ESGD increases 4 fold if a horse without food for more then 6 hours

  • Horses eating their straw bed - the risk of ESGD increases 4 fold

  • Water Deprivation - the risk of ESGD increases 3 fold

Therefore we must:

  • Supply regular and multiple forage sources

  • Avoid bedding on straw

  • Supply multiple, clean water sources

gillian higgins horses inside out conference 2020 how to avoid Equine Gastric Ulcer gillian higgins horses inside out conference 2020

One of the parts of the presentation I found really interesting was the forage daytime bias.

Research has found that horses stop eating between 3am-9am fed or unfed and ulcers do not form because of this.

Therefore we could consider a daytime forage bias where we split the ration:

  • 80% forage between 7am-7pm

  • 20% forage between 7pm-7am

I thought this might actually be a useful thing to think about when it comes to turning out our laminitis prone horses.

Surely based on this research, night time turnout would be best as this is when the horse will eat less?

Some food for thought indeed and maybe worth exploring further?

gillian higgins horses inside out conference 2020 dieting horses

Further feeding risks include:

  • Changing your horse’s calorie source from concentrates to fat/fibre or a slow release (low GI - Glycemic index) carbohydrate feed

  • Feeding before riding - this maximises saliva production & persistence which equals more gastric acid neutralisation by salivary bicarbonate

  • Feed mix not pellets - pellets create a greater gastric response and increase the risk of ESGD (Squamous ulcers)

gillian higgins horses inside out conference 2020 reducing the risk of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Richard recommends feeding 2 litres of chaff prior to exercise.

A useful tip for you - cut the neck off a 2 litre fizzy drinks bottle and this gives you the perfect measuring scoop!

gillian higgins horses inside out conference 2020 pre exercise feeding to reduce Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Some of Richard’s other suggestions for reducing stress in our horses and therefore reducing Gastrin and Cortisol levels and hopefully therefore EGUS include:

  • Provide 2 days rest per week

  • Choose turnout vs stabling

  • Minimise management changes - change feed over 4 weeks

  • Minimise change in companions and carers - Ideally 2 or fewer human carers

  • Multiple forage sources and types

  • Use of a stable mirror, and a mirror in transport

  • Daily tactile horse to horse contact - horses need to touch and groom each other

  • Play music to the horses rather than talk radio

gillian higgins horses inside out conference 2020 rest and reduce stress to reduce Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Below I would like to share with you some of my own personal notes from Richards presentation.

I hope you find them useful:

  • It takes 36-48 hours for food to pass from front to back of the horse

  • Contrary to popular belief, a ‘tucked up’ horse generally is healthy and has a good appetite

  • Exercise and stress can increase perception of pain

  • Lameness is the number 1 cause of poor performance followed by EGUS

  • We SHOULD be feeding our horses BEFORE exercise

  • EGUS causes stress <-> stress causes EGUS

  • The brain can confuse pain signals from the stomach as skin pain between T6-T8 (Thoracic spine behind the wither) which could explain the adversion to girthing with EGUS horses

  • EGUS horses have a higher cortisol response - this is why they are often more spooky

  • You DON’T have to feed Gastroguard on an empty stomach for it to be effective (wish I had known this one a while back)

  • Daytime starvation causes ulcers, not nighttime starvation - always make sure your horse has constant access to forage in daylight hours

  • Horses prefer salt water to plain water

  • Horses prefer warm water to cold water

  • Supplements cannot cure EGUS but can prevent

  • There is no scientific evidence for hind gut ulceration

  • Equine IBD does not cause behavioral issues

  • Be cynical of quick fixes!

  • Feeding corn oil before exercise may be benficial

  • Try and identify the primary problem and not just treat the symptoms

Having had a horse with EGUS myself this was a really interesting presentation for me, I wish I had known some of these things a couple of years ago.

But great to have the information now to help prevent my current horses developing EGUS or help any horses in the future I may come across.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog.

Next time I would like to share with you the presentation from PHD candidate Celeste Wilkins - How to ride a horse : unravelling the postural strategies of dressage riders.

This was the final presentation of the weekend.

Thank you once again to Horses Inside Out for allowing me access to their professional images.

And thank you to you for vising my blog.

359 views1 comment



Vanessa Bear
Vanessa Bear

Were there any recommendations about winter turnout- i.e. at times of year when there is little grass?

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