Equine Ulcer Causes

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Recently, in our 30-horse barn, five horses have had surgery. My horse got away without surgery, but he was put in the hospital for an ulcer and no gut sounds. He had blood in his reflux with rapid onset. I’m wondering if there could be an environmental connection that we should try to clean up, especially when they’re saying that ulcers are actually caused by bacteria. Can you advise me'

Horse Journal Response

It’s not clear from your description what might be going on here. In people, a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori is associated with gastric ulcers but no association between any bacterial species and ulcers in horses has been found. However, gastric ulcers may develop when there is a bacterial infection in the small bowel (e.g. clostridia or salmonella), blocking the escape of stomach acid and causing abnormal motility.

There has been a theory that the bacteria normally present in a horse’s stomach could irritate the lining, but there’s no conclusive proof of this either, and since all horses have the bacteria it wouldn’t explain why some have ulcers and others don’t. A recent study even found a fairly high number of ulcers in broodmares being maintained on pasture.

It’s very unusual for ulcers to be severe enough to bleed heavily, require surgery or kill a horse, and even more unusual for this many cases to occur in one barn. Without knowing exactly what type of bacteria is suspected here, and whether there were problems elsewhere in the intestinal tract, it’s difficult to answer your question. However, if there is any question as to what has caused this it would be wise at this point to involve your state vet. Solving herd problems is their job. Something in your water, hay, feed or pastures could be the culprit.

Hackamore Choice

What type of hackamore would you recommend for a horse that can’t work in a bit for a while due to mouth sores' How does a hackamore work and how do you measure for one' How much pressure do they apply as opposed to a bit'

Horse Journal Response

We recommend a simple soft noseband that buckles under the chin and has a rein ring on each side. We prefer the noseband be pliable and covered in leather. The noseband should fit an inch to two above the corners of the mouth and adjust just loose enough to allow chewing but not looser. (Measure around the nose at this height.) Unfortunately, this type of hackamore is not easy to find. Side-pull hackamores are ideal if you can find one without an excessively stiff nose piece. If the nose piece is pliable enough but too rough, you can pad it.

The amount of pressure exerted on the nose equals whatever pressure you put on the reins. The pressure is on the front or side of the nose: you may have to exaggerate your rein aid at first by taking your hand out in a leading rein, but the horse will feel the pressure moving his nose in the direction you want to go/flex. We like the simple noseband hackamore because its action is closest to the snaffle bit. Your horse is more likely to be light and responsive to the hackamore/halter if he has learned to be light during ground work and is normally responsive to the bit. Try your new headgear in a controlled setting first.

Avoid hackamores with shanks. They multiply hand pressure for flexing and stopping, like a curb bit, but like curb bits, don’t allow direct reining (asking the horse to follow his nose). Curb / shanked bits and hackamores achieve the best results on horses that already neck rein and moves off the rider’s legs well. Hackamores with shanks don’t allow using the hackamore to convey subtle lateral aids.

Thin Walls

My horse has Thoroughbred feet, really thin walls and soles. Is there anything that helps thicken them' She doesn’t need to grow length. I know this is in her genes, but I would love to try to help her.

Horse Journal Response

While we agree there can be a genetic component, most problems also have one or more environmental/outside influences, which is a good thing since we can’t change genetics.

Several key nutrients are important to the health of the hoof, although these have more influence on hoof-quality issues, such as chipping and drying than thickness per se. That said, it’s still a good idea to be sure she’s getting the correct nutrients. Ask your farrier if maybe the sole is being over trimmed.

A thin-soled horse naturally has more give on the sole than a normal horse. After your farrier trims your horse’s foot, pick it up and press on the sole with your thumb. You will feel some give, but it shouldn’t give easily. If it does, it may have been over-trimmed. This takes practice, so ask your farrier for help.

You can toughen up your horse’s soles by using a hoof hardener, like Keratex or Venice turpentine, to toughen the sole and help if the horse is lame or sore. If that doesn’t do it, talk with your farrier about having her shod with pads.