Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome
AN ACCOUNT OF HOW EQUINE
GASTRIC ULCERS CAN RUN YOUR TRAIN RIGHT OFF THE
to share my experiences with you in hopes that other horses
will benefit from my experience, and hopefully your athlete
won't have to endure what mine did.
My Arabian mare,
Padrona Auventera (Sweets), was 3 1/2 before I began under
saddle training. Her rides were very short and light, and
relatively infrequent. Basically just enough to give her the
idea of things, and get her mind focused in the right
direction. "Real" saddle training didn't begin until she was 4
years old. During her 4 year old year she did two very slow
Limited Distance (LD) endurance rides, and slow fun trail
rides. The ocassional ring work session was introduced, but
basically she had a very light workload.
A few notes about her diet and management
for history sake:
Fall, and Summer the horses are turned out pretty much 24/7 on
about 10 acres. They can come into 3 stalls in the barn as
they choose to get out of heat and bugs. I do put them in the
barn during bad thunderstorms. In the winter, they are in
around 10 hours a night, because our nights are quite frigid
here. The horses are just MUCH happier in their stalls in the
deep shavings than standing in -20 below windchills all night.
I feed hay almost free choice. I also feed VERY little grain.
Just enough to make the soaked beet pulp and alfalfa cubes
Her training and riding has always been
done with tact and compassion. NEVER over facing her, or doing
too much too soon. She was allowed to just "grow up" as a baby
and wasn't started under saddle until later. Our training
session and rides were always short and fun, never drilling
and repetitious, or demanding.
Tons of turnout on a
large acreage with 2 other horses, very little grain, food
ALWAYS in her belly, very very low stress lifestyle. She was
always wormed and vaccinated regularly, hooves trimmed
regularly. So in short, everything was "right" with her
management. This is a KEY POINT because so many horse
people think that if your horse develops ulcers, you are
feeding them wrong, riding them wrong, and keeping them wrong.
THAT'S NOT NECESSARILY TRUE!
Sweets got her barn name
honestly! She is a sweetheart! Always up for a challenge,
compliant, fun, eager, happy-go-lucky, and truly loves to be
on the trail. She's never been barn sour or buddy sour or had
any vices or quirks. Overall she has always been a really
great little mare, up for anything I presented to her. As a
foal also she loved humans and loved human attention. She was
always first at the gate when I went out, and she was always
happy to go for walks with me down the road.
the "down-side" of her personality is that she is very hot and
very reactive. Because of this, I didn't think "too" much of
her increasingly hard to handle behavior. I was operating
under the assumption that she was behaving like a normal 5
year old athlete with plenty of energy to burn. Her muscles
were hard and defined, her coat gleamed, her hooves expanded a
whole size in one year, and she was really showing some
amazing potential for Endurance racing. She had great
recoveries, her vet scores were excellent, and more than ever
she wanted to get down the trail as quickly as possible. She
was a real worker. Actually I rode her suprisingly little.
Maybe once or twice a week at most, sometimes skipping a whole
week or 10 days at a stretch. But she stayed in great physical
shape, mostly due to her 24/7 turnout schedule in a huge
pasture with 2 other horses that moved around a
But this summer (2008), things started to fall
apart. The more fit and athletic she got, the spookier and
hotter she became. She eats very little grain (maybe 1 pound a
day), soaked beet pulp, grass hay, and some alfalfa. She is
turned out 24/7 but her under saddle behavior was becoming
more like that of a racing fit Thoroughbred, high on 20 pounds
of sweet feed and stalled all night and day! Let me back up
and say that she has never felt truly dangerous under saddle,
but the tension level became sky high. It became harder and
harder to ride her alone because she would spook so badly. The
spooks were mainly at the canter but ocassionally during the
trot she'd slam on the breaks and spin for absolutely no
reason that I could tell. (But - there's ALWAYS a reason...)
But it seemed if I rode her with another horse, the behavior
was signifigantly improved. On the ground she continued to be
very sweet and easy to handle. I rarely even have to tie her
up to trim her hooves. I just drop the rope in the aisle and
she stands. But the spooking under saddle was getting
increasingly difficult to deal with.
Thinking it was possibly a
hormonal mare thing, I started her on 1 ounce of Mare Magic
daily, and 1 ounce of Remission (magnesium supplement.) Things
did seem to improve somewhat (possibly because of the
magnesium) but the improvement was very short
The final straw was a trail ride with a friend
in which Sweets was terrified of everything. She spooked at
velcro unzipping, or the other horse coughing. Any funny
colored weed or shadow scared her to death. She would calm
down and seem to do fine, then we'd canter a short ways, and
she was frantic all over again. After that particularly
frustrating ride, we took the horses to the river and went out
in the chest deep water. Sweets immediately relaxed and almost
fell asleep, despite tons of activity going on in the water
(swimmers, dogs, boats). I was jumping off her into the water,
swimming all around her, and she could not have cared less.
She didn't budge, but just relaxed and nearly fell asleep. I
wondered if the cold water was alleviating some kind of pain?
That was a Monday, and by that Thursday, I had a gastroscope
done for the possibility of ulcers.
Here's my girl,
getting her scope done, and what the vet found:
we did find!!! Lots of them, and bleeding in a couple of
places. No wonder the poor girl was so frantic under saddle.
She was experiencing significant pain.
So if everything was right with the
management - - - how did this horse develop
There are a
couple of theories the vets gave me to ponder. First - ulcers
in foals is VERY common, especially in the "hotter" natured
breeds. It is very possible that Sweets developed ulcers at
weaning, and having never been given treatment, they continued
to fester and worsen. Another theory is that she may have a
sensitivity to chemical dewormers, and just the act of worming
her every 3 months may have caused the ulcers, and made them
worse over time. And finally, some horses just produce a lot
of stomach acid - it's genetic and there's nothing you can do
except manage it. Some humans are this way as well.
began 1 tube of Gastrogard (Omeprazole) daily for 35 days. I
waited through 10 days of treatment before riding her. We took
her on a 16 mile organized trail ride and she was pretty much
terrible for that ride. She definitely wasn't back to her old
self. However, at this time, she is dramatically improved. No
spooking, no threat to spook, very relaxed, forward, happy,
calm, and game for anything. I FINALLY feel like I've got my
I have always been good about letting her
graze during trail rides, giving her a haybag in the trailer,
and on the side of the trailer while grooming and tacking up.
I never let her "go hungry" for a minute.
to Gastrogard, I've started her on 1 ounce of Pro-CMC daily,
and 10,000 mg of MSM. I've increased the amount of soaked
no-molasses beet pulp she gets, and also increased her alfalfa
a bit, as directed by the veterinarians working on her case.
She is also getting soaked alfalfa cubes in with the beet pulp
I'm confident that she'll have a complete
recovery and we'll get back to "life as normal" before our
train derailed. She will be on preventative treatments the
rest of her life to prevent a full recocurrence again. I
suppose the take home message from this article is to PLEASE
GET A GASTROSCOPE IF YOUR HORSE'S BEHAVIOR SUDDENLY AND
DRAMATICALLY CHANGES. Certain breeds such as Thoroughbreds,
Saddlebreds, Standardbreds, and Arabians seem to be at
particularly high risk, but ANY horse that is trailered,
stressed or competed frequently is at risk. If your horse
tends to be more of the hot/reactive type anyway, I would
definitely talk to your vet about the danger of ulcers and how
to diagnose and prevent them.
SUMMER 2012 UPDATE:
Well, it is several years past our initial battle with ulcers! Sweets' belly has done very well, and she seems extremely healthy! She does still have some spooking issues, but a good calming supplement (Smart Calm Ultra) has really helped that. Her diet for the last couple of years has consisted of soaked beet pulp (no molasses), soaked alfalfa and timothy pellets, a little Senior feed (either Purina or Nutrena), Smart Calm Ultra, Smart Digest Ultra, Smart Omega 3, and U-Gard powder. I took her off of MSM and her general vitamin/mineral supplement. She was still having frequent episodes of spooking and ultra-hot behavior and against my better judgement, I decided perhap she was getting TOO much vitamins and minerals and she was just feeling WAY too good with her excellent, top-of-the-line diet.
This summer I began to learn about and study Parelli training. According to Linda Parelli's "Horsenality Profile," Sweets is an extreme Right Brain Extrovert. She naturally has the tendency to be hot, spooky, reactive, unable to stand still, and panicky. At this point, I know almost diddly about Parelli training, but I am determined to learn! I have attended a couple of demos and was absolutely blown away at the level of deep, emotional connection Parelli horse owners have with their horses. Can you ride your horse at a gallop with NO tack of any kind in a coliseum arena with crowds clapping, music playing, and 6 other horses loose and doing their own thing? I can't! But boy am I determined to learn how to make this possible. I can't help but think that all these years of arguing with Sweets, and demanding she behave or getting frustrated at her hot, spooky behavior has done damage to our relationship. There have been so many frustrating rides where I'd rather shoot her than look at her! It has been so confusing and frustrating to see her spook or misbehave at something that she shold know ALL about by now! There has been significant improvement with treating the ulcers, getting her on a good calming supplement, and just years of trail riding experience, but I know that she and I as a team can still be so much better.
If all goes well, we hope to be heading to Tennessee in October for Pat Parelli to assess her personally. Application was submited and we made it to the 2nd round of cuts! Fingers crossed!!
With her belly fixed, and now an entirely new type of training out on the horizon, I am so excited about the years ahead with my beloved mare.
COST OF TREATMENT:
The cost of Gastrogard is high - about $40 a day
for a 1,000 pound horse, and even higher if your horse is
larger than 1,250 pounds. There are other medications
available that are a bit cheaper than Gastrogard, but they
work to only absorb or neutralize stomach acid instead of
shutting down proton pumps which are responsible for acid
production. Only your vet can tell you what's the best
treatment option for your particular case. There is a newer option available, which is generic omeprazole from Abrazole that you can check out. Many horses owners have reported great success with their products. They supply omeprazole that is enteric coated in either caplets or granuals you mix in the feed. The cost is between $1.45 and $1.75 per day, versus around $40!
cause needless pain and loss of performance. Keep a training
log and take note of any uncharacteristic behavior. If you
start to see a pattern, PLEASE try to identify a medical cause
before assuming it is a training issue.
HELPFUL LINKS AND GOOD READING (Click links
Stomach, and the Hind Gut
There are lots
of products you can use to help PREVENT further ulcer
And don't forget
You will need to make management changes such as
providing more turnout time, less stalling, free access to
forage, less stress in the environment, and so forth. But if
you're already doing those and the horse is still ulcer prone,
he will greatly benefit from a regime that focuses on
neutralizing acid in the stomach, and conditioning the
digestive tract with essential nutrients, electrolytes and
Some horses also respond well to continued
treatment with compounded omeprazole, cimetidine, or
If you have a performance horse that is
dosed with electrolytes during heavy work, you can use the
pink liquid Pro-CMC as a buffer. The flavor is well accepted,
and electrolytes mix in quite well with it.
about PRICING: Be sure to google any supplement you decide on,
and check MANY different sources for their product cost plus
shipping fees. I have found widely varrying costs on these
products and it really pays to shop around! Some online farm
supply places, like Valley Vet, charge a small order handling
fee that can be as much as $10, so VERY CAREFULLY review your
shopping cart before checking out!
There have been
observations indicating that MSM is beneficial to horses with
ulcers. I feed MSM as a joint prevention measure, and not to
mention the added gutt benefit.