Colic simply means that the horse has some sort of painful stimulus, and that the stimulus is probably coming from inside the horse’s abdomen (We say “probably” because there are some problems that can look as if a horse has colic that doesn’t have anything to do with his abdomen).
Colic is not a disease any more than “tummy ache” is a disease. You may have had a tummy ache, or at least you may have known someone who has. What was the problem? Do you know? Did you drink some spoiled milk? Too much spicy food? Or, was your tummy ache more serious? Did you have surgery? And, most importantly, was there any way to make sure that you could prevent a tummy ache, 100% of the time?
We get that people would do anything that they could to try to keep their horses from suffering an episode of pain, no matter what the cause (much less try to prevent more serious problems). Turns out that there’s some good news here. There are certainly some sensible, healthy, and FREE things that you can to help your horse’s digestive tract sail along as pain-free as is possible. Here goes.
-Make sure he’s always got access to fresh, clean water. Horses drink a lot. Limiting access to water can increase the risk that they will have some sort of abdominal problem, too, especially in horses more than 6 years old. Make it easy for him to drink, too. Horses prefer buckets to automatic waterers because when they drink, they drink a lot: and quickly. When he travels, stop frequently to offer water. If the water’s cold, see if you can warm it up a bit (horses prefer warm water to freezing cold water).
Water, water everywhere. And make sure it’s fit to drink.
-Put them in a pasture, if you can, for at least some of the day. Horses in pastures have fewer episodes of colic pain. In pasture, they get to move around, socialize, eat, and be a horse.
– Don’t let them eat sand. They came up with the phrase, “Eating like a horse,” for a reason. In areas where the soil is sandy (southern California, parts of Florida, Nebraska, and many other areas around the world), horses will happily vacuum the ground for every last bit of feed, and consume mouthfuls of sand in the process. Sand can accumulate if the horse eats enough of it, and it can irritate, or even block, the GI tract.
So…. feed them in tubs. Or in special areas that have been covered to limit access to sand. And don’t rely on pysillium products (there are many). While there’s reason to question how well any of them work, they certainly aren’t a substitute for good management.
Make sure the vast majority of your horse’s diet is high-quality forage. For most horses, “vast majority” can be 100%.
– Lay off the grain. Horses love grain. Children love candy. Children should have limited access to candy. The more grain a horse eats, the more likely he is to be at risk to develop intestinal problems. There are lots of good ways to get calories to horses – grain is one of the poorer ones.
– Make changes gradually. If you switch from one type of hay to another, do it over a period of a week or two, mixing old an new hay. Keep a regular exercise program going, and if you make changes, don’t do them abruptly.
-Have a routine. Horses are creatures of habit. Have a regular program and stick to it. Feed your horse on a regular schedule; ideally, that’s three times a day. Or consider a slow feeder. In fact, free feeding is even better, but a lot of horses get fat on that program.
Your horse will be happier with a routine. Horses don’t like surprises.
– Get regular health checks. You know, have his teeth checked every year or so, and take care of problems when they show up. Check to see if he has parasites and deworm as needed (don’t just deworm all the time). Do what’s needed, and, importantly, don’t do what’s not needed.
– Pay attention. You can do a lot of things yourself. If your horse isn’t doing what he normally does, you’ll probably notice. If you pay attention, and you’re familiar with what’s normal for your horse, you’ll pick up on problems much more quickly.
– Let your horse be a horse. Horses under stress are those that are at risk for colic. Train them, sure, but let them play and run and buck, too. And don’t overtrain them – let them go on trail rides or frisky gallops or just hang out with them. Don’t treat them like they are made out of crystal – horses don’t know how valuable they are. Stressed horses don’t perform well and they develop all sorts of other problems: including colic.
You see, with colic, there are all sorts of things that you can do that make some sense. Just don’t call it a disease.