The way performance horses are commonly fed, along with the stress of training, showing and traveling, causes acid levels to rise past the glandular portion of the horse’s stomach, leading to ulcers. That pain from sores on the stomach wall can cause your horse’s performance to suffer. Two out of three performance horses have stomach ulcers, and a study has shown that horses with ulcers have a shorter stride length than those without.
“Reduced performance, including a shorter stride length, is likely a consequence of gastric pain caused by ulcers,” says Hoyt Cheramie, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, senior equine professional service veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim. “When we ask horses for precise athletic maneuvers—to run, jump, spin, and slide—if they have gastric discomfort, they aren’t going to be able perform as well.”
Preventing ulcers is the optimal way to ensure that they don’t inhibit performance. Omeprazole (a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved product is marketed as UlcerGard) inhibits acid production at the source—the proton pumps in the lower part of the stomach.
To prevent ulcers, in addition to omeprazole, Cheramie suggests feeding management changes when appropriate, such as increasing grazing time, using a slow-feed hay net, replacing calories from cereal grains with good-quality roughage or fat, and adding alfalfa to the diet.
Finding ways to increase stride length and ensure your horse is performing to the best of his ability is challenging enough. Don’t let equine gastric ulcers negatively affect performance. Keep digestive health and ulcer prevention a top priority.