Riding International Eventing on an Ulcer Prone Horse

Gastric ulcers in horses have been found to be quite common. Studies of racehorses report a prevalence of up to 93 %, while studies on horses in non intensive training has shown a prevalence of 52 %. This means that having a horse prone to ulcers is not out of the norm. Of course, some horses seem to be bothered more about it, and these are probably the ones that get most attention from their riders.

I own one of the horses that is both prone to gastric ulcers and bothered about it. This means that I have made some choices in his everyday life to make sure that he is as comfortable as possible and does not show up with massive ulcers on a gastroscopy.

Marco has been cribbing ever since I got him. I was informed about this when I bought him and I made the decision to buy him even though I knew there was a correlation between cribbing and gastric ulceration. He turned out to be a hard keeper and very sensitive to the girth and annoyed by the leg. A checkup for gastric ulcers confirmed our suspicion, and he was put on medication.

One thing is to get the ulcers to heal, a whole different problem is to make sure the stomach stays sound afterwards. Not all horses are the same, which is why there are so many people online trying to tell you what to do and what not to do and none of them seem to agree. This is how I do it and you may or may not have success in using some of my ideas.

A small break for hand walking and grazing on our way to Sopot.

First of all I have my horses stabled at home. We have four horses and I rarely make changes to the herd. They are outside as much as possible and live outside for at least three months during the summer. One of my current projects is a run-in so they can live outside for even longer.

Then there is feeding. Ulcer horses often thrive very poorly on high starch diets. They need to be allowed to chew for most the day to produce enough saliva to neutralize the stomach acid. Since my horses are out all day on grass fields they do get to chew. During the winter when the grass is sparse I feed them enough hay that they always leave some behind both in the field and in the stable. Even though grass and hay does sometimes contain a lot of sugar and starch I am not too worried about it. For riding eventing, I need to make sure there is enough energy in the feed they get and will have a hard time keeping them fat enough if I only feed low sugar hay.

Faraday lives mostly off of the hay and grass and only gets a vitamin supplement. Marco however, needs to get more calories to not get too skinny. Here I have chosen a low starch and very concentrated feed. I then supplement with extra energy depending on the horse’s current workload.
The feed I have chosen is a Danish feed, NAG HorsePro. I feed Elite as their base feed and supplement with Fiber Plus and Rice Up Pro in the season. They also make a mash with almost no sugar and starch that I use for hydration and travelling.

All of this is enough to keep Marco sound and happy at home. It does however not take away the stress and changes of intake when we are away. For the competitions I need a little more. For the last many years I have, in collaboration with my vet, given Marco ormeprazol for a couple of days before we leave, while we are away, and a couple of days after we come back. This has worked for us. It is very common to see ormeprazol administered at the competitions where it is not considered doping by the FEI. Be aware though that it is considered doping in Sweden.

Having a problem at the Swedish competitions I have been looking for an alternative solution to administering ormeprazol. I have tried out many of the supplements that have been recommended online with little or no success. This year I stumbled upon Egusin, a new product on the Danish market. It seemed promising and I decided to give it a try.
This seems to do the trick for Marco, I have not given him ormeprazol this year and he has felt comfortable. I have yet to check him with gastroscopy, we usually only do that when he feels uncomfortable since it is quite invasive with all the fastening and sedation.

Marco clear in Sopot CCI2*-S. Photo by Ola Chwialkiewicz

Just like I used to do with ormeprazol I feed Egusin SLH for a couple of days before the competitions, while we are away, and again a couple of days after. While we are at home, I have decided to try and help him a little more and am now giving Egusin Gastric365 on an everyday basis. I don’t know if that is needed, but it does not hurt.
Since I have Gastric 365 anyway, I am now using that for the others when we are away. Not that I am aware of any problems, but for all horses travelling is stressful and with the known prevalence of gastric ulcers it does not hurt to help them a little.

Of course I still make sure to feed enough hay while away and very often have them stabled on straw. And if possible I stable them away from the competition area at a facility where I can let them out in a field, if possible I prefer a place with a run-in.

Since starting up using both NAG HorsePro and Egusin I have been lucky enough to start a collaboration with them. For both products I wanted to make sure they worked out for me before closing an agreement, since I do not see myself praising a product I would not use anyway.