A 12 year old Thoroughbred cross Connemara gelding who is in moderate work and takes part in riding club activities including some competing has had three separate bouts of low grade colic. The owner wants to ensure that nothing in his diet or his management is contributing towards the bouts. The vet has been involved in each case and the horse has made a full recovery. The cause of the colic is unknown.

Excessive rolling can be a sign of colic – always call your vet if you suspect colic because it can quickly become an emergency.
Excessive rolling can be a sign of colic – always call your vet if you suspect colic because it can quickly become an emergency.

Colic risk has been associated with long periods of stabling and limited turnout on pasture, diet changes, poor quality forage and high levels of starchy cereals in the diet. Therefore to reduce the risk, the gelding should:

1. Have as much turnout as possible – ideally live out and be stabled for a maximum of a few hours daily. The management routine should be kept consistent, so if any stabling is required then the horse should be stabled every day for a few hours. In this way, there will not be a sudden change in diet

2. Have all dietary changes made gradually – these include changes in forage including pasture grass and hay as well as changes in hard feed. Change the diet gradually over a week to ten days. If the owner wishes to feed something during competition e.g. sugar beet to aid hydration then this feed should be given every day (in small quantities)

3. Be fed good quality forage free from dust and mould spores, and with an NDF (neutral detergent fibre) content of 65% or less

4. Be fed limited starchy cereals and instead, if concentrate feed is necessary, be fed a digestible fibre and oil-based medium energy compound feed. Starch intake should be maintained at a minimum and definitely less than no more than 0.5 g per kg of bodyweight per meal (250 g starch per meal for a 500 kg horse)

5. Have free access to clean fresh water, and offered water from home when away at competitions

The gelding should also have free access to a salt block and have electrolytes added daily to the feed when he is in work. The amount should be adjusted according to how much he has sweated during work.

Reduce the risk of colic by always changing all parts of the diet gradually.
Reduce the risk of colic by always changing all parts of the diet gradually.

A digestive supporting supplement such as a probiotic or probiotic and herb mix should be fed on a daily basis. Psyllium husks should be given as a week-long course every couple of months, and always after a bout of colic.

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About Clare MacLeod

Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr is one of the UK’s few registered independent equine nutritionists who also has expertise in health and fitness. She advises private and commercial clients in all sectors of the horse world and is a hands-on horse owner herself. Clare is passionate about correct nutrition as a foundation for good health, without which peak fitness is not possible. She states “Good nutrition isn’t everything, but there’s nothing without it”.