While you can’t necessarily prevent or squelch every equine ailment by adjusting his diet, what a horse consumes can impact certain maladies. According to Meri Stratton-Phelps, DVM, MPVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVN, owner of All Creatures Veterinary Nutrition Consulting, in Fairfield, Calif., veterinarians and owners can use certain dietary ingredients to reduce a horse’s risk of developing particular medical conditions such as colic, gastric ulcer syndrome, and developmental orthopedic disease and to help manage some pre-existing conditions such as obesity and equine metabolic syndrome. She presented on the topic at the 2011 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 20-24 in Las Vegas, Nev.

Before delving into dietary details, Stratton-Phelps stressed that caretakers changing horses’ diets should go about it very slowly, as a rapid change in feed could cause colic itself. She suggested stretching changes out over about 10 days (or more if the horse has a history of colic associated with feeding adjustments).

Impaction Colic

Impaction colic is a common condition in which feed material obstructs the large colon. According to Stratton-Phelps, a common cause of impaction colic is a decrease in water intake: "Many impaction colic cases can be prevented by ensuring an adequate water intake at all times."

Encouraging horses that only drink limited amounts of water to increase fluid intake is of paramount importance to preventing impaction colic, Stratton-Phelps said. She suggested a number of methods to encourage horses to drink: