Many aspects of a horses wellbeing is related to the digestive system. Before anything, a good nutritional diet needs to be considered and what portions to be fed and when is as important. A horseman will always focus his energy towards what is fed, but how we manage the feeding is critical to any stable yard.
Different to ourselves and most animals including cows who eat several meals a day, horses has been designed to eat continuously. There is a method to this, which is listed below...........................
Horses are without a Gall bladderYes, horses do not have a gall bladder, in most animals (such as cats, dogs, goats, sheep, cows and of cause humans), the gall bladder is responsible for storing bile. Bile is produced by the liver and used when needed to digest fats in the small intestines.
Horses are continuously producing bile with no where to store it, in turn the bile is released into the small intestine regardless of there being food to digest or not.
Should a horse go half a day without eating it could start to look jaundiced (yellowish in the whites of eyes and gums) from the build-up of bile in the bloodstream.
The proton pumpIn the lining of the stomach there are specialized cells, called “parietal cells” whose job is to produce stomach acid. The acid is then secreted into the stomach by proton pumps. Technically, proton pumps are enzymes.
In humans and many other animals, proton pumps are regulated by the hormones and nervous system. In horses, stomach acid is produced, and secreted, constantly.
How big is a horse’s stomach?The stomach in a horse is fairly small in comparison. It makes up less than 10% of the capacity of the digestive tract. The average human stomach is about 17% of the digestive tract.
As a result of the stomach’s relatively size, horses cannot handle large amounts of feed at one time.
Its a no brainer and makes perfect sense that since this is the way they have been designed, this is how we need to feed them for them to be most healthy.
Here’s a quick reminder of a few reasons why horses need constant access to quality pasture or hay:
- The equine liver is continuously secreting bile. Since there’s no gall bladder to store it, the bile is continuously delivered into the small intestine directly from the liver.
- The stomach constantly produces acids for breaking down foods and activating enzymes for digesting proteins
- The horse’s stomach is relatively small and can only hold so much at one time
- Most of a horse’s energy comes from fermenting forages in the hindgut