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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POLO P L A Y E R S E D I T I O N 17 fermented in the stomach. There are some bacteria in the stomach that produce acids that further drive the acidity. Diet is definitely involved in ulcers," he says. There are also other issues that may predispose a horse to ulcers, such as use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Any additional stresses may be contributing factors, such as transportation—hauling to competitive events. The other major cause of ulcers is intensive exercise. The horse's stomach lining contains glandular tissue (mucus- producing glands) that help protect against the effects of stomach acid, but the top part of the stomach is not as well protected. There are fewer glands in the lining in the upper portion of the stomach. "When a horse begins exercise, the diaphragm and movement of the internal organs actually compress the stomach, and this pushes acid from the buffered area up into the non-buffered area," says Duren. "This is what causes some of the ulceration in the top portion of the stomach. The compression of the stomach during exercise moves more of the stomach contents—and acid—into that unprotected region. So diet and exercise can both precipitate ulcers. It's no wonder that athletic horses have ulcers," he says. Training or exercise workouts in the early morning can be detrimental because the horse's stomach is relatively empty and creating acid. When you exercise the horse—especially at a gallop— the stomach is compressed by the abdominal muscles and other organs and the acid gets moved up into the top portion. One of the management tools for ulcer prevention is to not exercise the horse until he has had something to eat. Diets to minimize ulcers "The first strategy people utilized for diet management was to try to mimic pasture, and feed grass hay," says Duren. "We thought that if horses had access to grass hay they would chew it more than they have to chew grain and thus be able to buffer ulcers, with the additional saliva. But researchers at University of Tennessee and Kentucky and at Texas A&M discovered that alfalfa hay was more efficient in buffering against stomach ulcers than grass hay. This is because of the higher level of calcium in alfalfa. The protein and calcium both act as potential buffer for the stomach acid," he explains. "So now it's widely practiced to feed some alfalfa, but feed a small amount early in the morning and have it already in the stomach when horses go out in the morning and work. Even though trainers always preferred to have their horses exercise on a relatively empty stomach (no big meals before a workout or competition), most trainers are adding some alfalfa to the diets, feeding it in the morning before the horses are exercised." Grain has been the mainstay of athletic horses' diets, but if very much grain is fed it can potentially be fermented in the gut, which is not healthy. Many trainers now feed more non-grain energy sources, such as fat. "Fat slows the rate at which the stomach empties, and this keeps more material in the stomach longer. Fat is also a great energy source. Another grain substitute is beet pulp, a fibrous feed. The horse doesn't have to chew it more, but it's not fermented in the stomach. This energy source gets fermented in the hind gut and produces additional calories for the horse," he explains. Hard-working horses need as much forage as they can eat (especially the hyper, finicky, horse that may only pick at his feed). Horses need a minimum of 1.5 percent of their body weight daily. A 1000-pound horse would thus need 15 pounds of hay as a bare minimum. Most people increase the grain ration for horses that are working hard. But the more grain a horse eats, the less hay he may consume. The amount of grain in the total diet is a big part of the equation, regarding ulcers. There are many good strategies to prevent or try to heal ulcers but some of these management tactics—like more turnout time and grazing—are hard to fit into the life of an athlete and many trainers don't have that option. "More frequent small meals can help, rather than large concentrate meals. Keeping hay in front of horses all the time is a good plan, along with feeding alfalfa hay certain times of day, and using a grain concentrate fortified with other energy sources besides the sugars," advises Duren. Research on supplements Frank Andrews, DVM, MS, DACVIM (continued on page 38) Horses produce saliva, the main buffer for stomach acid, when eating hay. A 1000-pound horse requires a minimum of 15 pounds of hay per day.

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