Polo Players Edition

NOV 2018

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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16 POLO P L A Y E R S E D I T I O N E Q U I N E A T H L E T E BY HEATHER SMITH THOMAS BELLY BURN M any athletic performance horses develop ulcers in the digestive tract, partly due to stresses of unnatural environment, increased exercise and athletic competition, unnatural diet, etc. Stress can lead to gastric ulcers in horses just as it does in humans. Strategic feeding management can help minimize the incidence and severity of ulcers. Dr. Stephen Duren, Performance Horse Nutrition, says that in the past people thought only in terms of gastric (stomach) ulcers, but we now realize there can be colonic ulcers as well. Studies at University of Tennessee and at University of Kentucky, using ponies with cannulas (openings into the digestive tract) enabled researchers to sample material in the stomach and colon, and measure some of the changes that can occur. "The initial thrust of early ulcer research was to find drug therapies and acid blockers that would help with the medical side of treatment. But along with the medical side, we also need to be aware of what we should do from a feeding standpoint, to reduce or help heal the condition, or prevent ulcers in the first place," says Duren. "Many ulcers occur in high-level athletes, for two reasons. First, we change their diet. As the horse goes from a pasture or relatively sedentary life to an active athletic career, training for peak performance, his diet must change in order to provide the needed energy. He can't get enough calories for the increased work, just by eating forages, to fuel his energy requirements as an athlete. So we feed different ingredients that provide those calories," he explains. "This change in diet may cause ulceration because the main buffer for acid in the stomach is saliva. The horse produces about twice as much saliva eating hay (which takes longer, and also requires more mixing with saliva) than eating grain. The very nature of that new diet takes away some of the protection in the stomach," says Duren. Horses at pasture are least prone to ulcers because they graze more or less continuously. Thus they are producing saliva almost continuously. "Acid in the stomach is produced on a continuous basis, so the constant eating is a help," he says. Horses in strenuous sports are fed grain meals, and allowed to pick at hay in between. Though they usually have hay in front of them all the time in their stalls, they are not engaged in steady feeding like a horse at pasture. "Even though they have hay in front of them they may be resting, or not interested in eating enough hay," he explains. We generally think of ulcers as a problem in racehorses, but there is significant incidence of ulcers in non- racing performance horses because those horses are also in stalls and have no pasture turnout. "Access to pasture may not fit into the management or schedule of those performance horses," says Duren. Ulcer incidence may not be as high as in racehorses but is still a common problem because of stall confinement and the high concentrate diet. Horses are not like humans in how their digestive system works. "We salivate when we eat, and enzymes are produced when food enters the stomach. Horses' stomachs produce digestive acids all the time. So if the horse has an empty stomach, he is at risk for ulcers," says Duren. Feeding a lot of grain is detrimental, however. "Large grain meals may be Feeding horses to help prevent or treat ulcers Performance horses are susceptible to ulcers due to the stresses of limited turnout, trailering, increased exercise, competition and grain diets.

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