Polo Players Edition

DEC 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 59 when you put horses in a trailer for long periods of time and they don't eat while traveling, they may be at risk for ulcers. Many performance horses go for long periods without food," says Prevatt. A French study of 30 high-level endurance horses showed that most of them after a competitive event were diagnosed with ulcers. "Ulcers are prevalent in endurance horses and all types of performance horses, especially racehorses. But ulcers are also prevalent in broodmares at pasture. This leads us to believe that we really don't know how abnormal it is for horses to have ulcers," says Prevatt. Balch says the French study looked at gastric ulcers in endurance horses during their off season and during the competition season—two to three days following competition in 60- to 100-mile rides. None of the horses had been treated for gastric ulcers within two months, or received NSAID medication within one month of the examination, and none received electrolytes. The prevalence of ulcers during the off season was 48 percent, compared with 93 percent during the competitive season. Horses competing at longer distances showed greater severity of ulcers, visualized by scoping. "Despite the fact that scoping these horses showed that competing endurance horses had more visible ulcers, there was no correlation to performance. So we are not sure how clinically relevant the scoping actually is," says Balch. "It would be interesting to do more studies in performance horses and correlate how the horse actually does, as an athlete, with the presence of ulcers that are seen. Then we might get a better feel for what's involved," says Balch. "What's interesting is that the equine stomach rapidly undergoes changes in the epithelium. We see development and healing of ulcers as a relatively normal event in any horse. It's simplistic to say that if you've scoped and found an ulcer, the horse has a problem. It's better to try to correlate this with clinical signs and then make a judgment, and also realize that damage to and healing of the epithelium is normal for many horses," says Balch. Epithelial cells have a high turnover rate and can usually heal quickly. Some level of gastric ulceration may be normal, and it might be reasonable to expect that ulceration will resolve under good management. "Up to 93 percent of competing racehorses have been shown to have ulcers. Dr. Barney Fleming's study in endurance horses showed about 50 percent. Most endurance horses are managed differently than racehorses. Most endurance horses live in pastures and have a high-fiber diet—and are not as confined when they are not working," he says. An individual horse's risk will also vary, depending on temperament and lifestyle. Prevatt and his wife had two endurance horses they rode for many years. "Mine was in his mid-20s and still going. As far as I could tell, he'd never shown any of the classic symptoms of an ulcer. We trailered all over the country, but if you put a flake of hay in front of him in the trailer, he ate it. When you stop a few hours up the road, you had to put another flake in front of him; he kept eating. By contrast, my wife's horse was a picky eater and also more readily stressed. Whenever his buddy left him, he got upset. We had to treat him for ulcers at one point," says Prevatt. There's great variation among horses regarding risk for ulcers. "Horses trailered long distances that do not eat and drink while in transit are probably at higher risk. Riders who take a sport seriously do a lot of traveling. If the horse doesn't have the personality to eat while traveling, I think this is a big risk factor," he says. Balch agrees, and says any advice about ulcer prevention has to be general. "It's just a place to start. We are always looking for a way to tailor advice for a specific horse to get the very best performance, and this also applies to ulcer prevention," says Balch. What works nicely for one individual may not work for another. "Ulcers are present in many horses— not just high-level performance horses. Many horses with endoscopically observable ulcers do not show clinical disease and do not need medical treatment. For preventing or mitigating the effects of ulcers that are already causing clinical disease in a horse, management is the key," says Prevatt. If a horse is managed in a way that is most like his natural environment, taking into consideration his own individual tendencies, ulcer problems can be minimized. Stress (from pain, illness, etc.) also predisposes horses to ulcers, or even a horse being away from its friends. "Some stress is inevitable with performance and competition, but you can minimize stress by having feed in front of the horse at all times when he's not in competition, and bringing his best buddy along to stay in an adjacent stall," says Balch. "I wondered how long it would take for a normal horse's stomach (when that horse is exposed to stress), to produce clinically-relevant ulcers with the horse showing symptoms. Two studies looked into this. One showed that ulcers could appear within eight days after light-to- heavy training. The other study showed it only took five days for ulcers to appear after shipping, stall confinement and light exercise. These studies suggests that when horses come to competitive events with healthy stomachs, a 48-hour period of stress should not be enough in itself to initiate ulcers." The horse can go home after competition and relax again in his familiar environment, and whatever ulceration may have begun will likely start to heal. "There are many things we can do as horsemen and riders, to minimize some of the stress that horses experience. It is very important for horse owners to realize that management procedures are paramount, in terms of making horses more comfortable. Then they are less apt to have ulcers," says Balch.

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