Dr. Jonica Newby investigated the disturbing news that, in 1999, researchers came to the shocking realisation that 90% of Australian racehorses are suffering from stomach ulcers. What's more, the ulcers are caused by the way horses are traditionally managed.
Despite the best care, the majority of racehorses are suffering a painful disease that would hospitalise a human. And until very recently, we didn’t have the faintest idea anything was wrong. And that’s because it was only four years ago when the first 3-metre endoscope arrived in Australia. It was the first time, veterinarians had an endoscope long enough to pass all the way past the pharynx, and down through the oesophagus and let them peer deep into the horse’s stomach. What they saw were holes.
Researcher, Dr Leanne Beggs, feels it becomes a welfare issue when so many horses are affected. Almost one hundred percent of race horses in work have this problem, so it’s serious.
The ulcer problem develops because horses evolved to eat grass, 16 hours a day. Their stomachs aren’t adapted to intermittent food, and they secrete high levels of gastric acid all the time. In a natural setting, constant chewing produces saliva, which neutralizes the acid. The modern racehorse is fed a mixture of grains, molasses, nutrients and secret additives – high-energy food to maximize muscle growth and activity levels. Not only is this concentrated food eaten very quickly, it is only fed twice a day. So twice a day, racehorses are chewing and producing neutralizing saliva. The rest of the time, their stomachs are sitting in a low-grade bath of gastric acid.
In a recent American studies, every single horse developed an ulcer within four days, when the horses were shut in a stable and fed intermittently. Yet trainers don’t want to feed bulky roughage, because they’re afraid it will slow horses down.
And now it seems concentrated food could explain another worrying condition. It’s the behavioural problem known as crib biting. This destructive problem has baffled scientists. But now researchers suspect it starts because of ulcers. Young horses discover that biting produces saliva and neutralizes stomach ulcers caused by concentrated food.
There are of course drugs. Two years ago, an effective anti-ulcer medication was released. But are drugs really the answer when the whole problem, the whole disease is caused by artificial feeding regimes? Shouldn’t we be changing feeding?
Science has revealed the problem and the solution. How long will tradition force horses to keep running with hidden pain in their stomachs?
Information taken from an article by Jonica Newby.