Chewing over equine diet

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WE had a well-attended equine meeting last Tuesday evening at Morpeth Town Hall where Sarah Rushby, area manager for Dodson and Horrell, spoke generally about feeding horses.

It was quite a fascinating talk especially as she brought along a life-size model of the horses gastrointestinal tract from oesophagus to colon. Most people were surprised at how small the stomach in a horse is and that the intestines are as long as a tennis court, about 70 feet!

She stressed the importance of feeding horses continuously as due to the small size of their stomach they are known as trickle feeders – eating little and often – so they shouldn’t be left for long periods without food. Fibre, together with protein, vitamins and minerals, is an essential part of a horse’s diet but modifications to this are made on the basis of the workload, age and condition of the horses.

They are often fed a shorter fibre source, which they find easier to cope with and digest. In many cases, this can be fed as a ‘soup’ to make it easier for them to eat.

She also mentioned the importance of having horses’ teeth checked.

Sarah also spoke briefly about feeding laminitics although she will hopefully be returning to discuss this more fully at our lamintitic meeting on April 19, which will again be held at Morpeth Town Hall.

Our second speaker for the evening was Gemma Pearson, from Edinburgh Vet School. Gemma works in the first opinion clinic and has a special interest in equine behaviour.

Her talk on equitation was interesting and thought-provoking, prompting lots of questions from the audience about dealing with their horses in different situations such as clipping and loading.

She raised several issues about the aspects of training horses and the scientific basis for many of the techniques she uses. Most of the training she does is based on a negative stimuli response.

She gave the analogy of sitting on a pin. You jump up to remove the stimulus and stop it hurting. This same basis is used in equitation, putting pressure on either the head collar, bit or with your legs and stopping when the horse moves forward, so that its reward is the stopping of the pressure.

The talk was well-received and Gemma would welcome new cases. She proposed to hold regular clinics if enough clients were interested. If anyone does have a behavioural problem with their horse please contact the surgery either to discuss with one of our equine vets or we can arrange a consultation with Gemma.

As spring approaches, horses should now be wormed for tapeworm. Our two equine nurses, Kate Lazenby and Grace Spedding, who have recently attended a parasitology course, together with the support of Merial a veterinary drug company, they are encouraging SMART worming. To find out more about this and the offer of free worm egg counts, please contact the surgery.

By Sally Booth,

Senior Equine Vet and Director