Contributed by Cheval Sport
Gut health is an area of increasing importance in the care and health of horses. Horses have a very large and complex digestive system, and their overall health depends hugely on how well their digestive system functions. You often hear the saying ‘no hoof no horse’, but perhaps we need to start saying ‘no hindgut no horse’!
While gut health is a complex topic, there is one key thing that contributes to a healthy gut, and that is fibre. In this article we will talk a bit about how a horse’s digestive system works, and why fibre is crucial in promoting gut health and the overall health of your horse.
The Horse’s Digestive System
A horse’s digestive system consists of a single stomach, small intestine and hindgut. Digestion and nutrient absorption happen in each area, but the style of digestion and nutrients absorbed differ.
The horse is a hindgut fermenter, which means that they use bacterial fermentation (a microbial process) in the hindgut to digest plant fibres. The hindgut accounts for 63% of their entire digestive system and is made up of the Caecum, Large Intestine and Colon.
Why Is The Hindgut So Important For Overall Health?
- It is the centre for fibre digestion which is a major component of a horse’s diet. A horse doesn’t contain the enzyme that can breakdown fibre, so it relies on bacterial fermentation to digest it. The hindgut houses trillions of bacteria who are responsible for fermenting fibre to produce Volatile Fatty Acids or VFA’s. VFA’s can then be absorbed by the horse as a source of calories or energy to fuel their organs and muscle function.
- Bacterial fermentation of fibre in the hindgut also supplies important vitamins like biotin and thiamine which can then be absorbed by the horse.
- The hindgut is key for hydration and electrolyte balance as it holds water which can be used by the horse, and the fibrous feeds within it can serve as a source of electrolytes.
- The bacterial population in the digestive system plays a role in the control of immune function. This is an area which we are starting to understand more and more across multiple animal species, including humans.
- What happens if a horse has poor hindgut health? Poor gut health can lead to a huge number of issues in horses including:
- Weight, condition loss and poor appetite
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Altered behaviour, anxiety and moodiness
- Decreased immune function
For the hindgut to work efficiently, the horse must have a healthy population of ‘good’ bacteria. What do we mean by good bacteria? Well, ‘good’ bacteria are the ones that ferment fibre. When a horse has an unhealthy hindgut, it often has large populations of ‘bad’ or starch-loving bacteria.
Starch is the main component of cereal grains, and when a cereal grain isn’t cooked properly, or if a horse is fed a diet too high in starch, the starch ends up in the hindgut. Fermentation of starch in the hindgut makes the environment more acidic and can lead to hindgut acidosis. The bacterial populations in a horse’s hindgut can be disrupted by:
- Diet – such as too much grain, low fibre intake, or uncooked grains
- Abrupt changes to a horse’s diet
- Stress or anxiety
- Medications like oral antibiotics
- Illnesses or diseases
- Vitamin imbalances
How Can You Improve Gut Health In Your Horse – Feed Fibre!
To improve the population of good bacteria, you have to ‘feed’ the microbes! The good bacteria need fibre to survive. So, if your horse isn’t ingesting enough fibre for the bacteria to ferment their populations will decrease.
Feeding your horse a gut health supplement can be a great way to help heal your horse’s hindgut, promote healthy bacterial populations and restore digestive function.
Hemp Seeds As A Source Of Fibre – Meet ‘The Moulin Blend'
A team of Australian scientists knew that that hemp seeds contained a unique type of insoluble fibre. They conducted research that showed that feeding the fibre and protein from hemp seeds has a prebiotic effect in a horse’s gut. What’s a prebiotic? A prebiotic promotes the increase of good bacteria in the gut. Their research also showed that a prebiotic effect is more efficient for promoting gut health than probiotics, which is simply adding bacteria to the horse’s gut.
Together with an Australian farmer, they developed a hemp seed horse feed with the non-oily parts of the seed. This feed supplement is called The Moulin Blend, and it contains this insoluble fibre mixed with the protein and trace elements from the hemp seed.
How Does The Moulin Blend Work?
The insoluble fibre of the hemp seeds passes through the horse’s stomach and intestine without being broken down. This means it reaches the hindgut intact and ready for the good bacteria to ferment it. Feeding the good bacteria with a high quality, concentrated source of fibre means their population can increase, and they can out-compete the bad bacteria.
The fermentation of the hemp fibre helps to normalise the pH in the hindgut, which improves gut function and creates more favourable conditions for the growth of the good bacteria. A less acidic environment also gives the gut an opportunity to heal.
The Moulin Blend, through promoting optimum gut health can lead to:
- Reduction of anxiety leading to calmer horses
- Increased weight gain
- Improved joint mobility
- Improved immune function
- Decreased colic risk
- Healing of ulcers
- Shiny coats
- Overall health and wellbeing
The Moulin Blend is a simple supplement that you can add to your horse’s feed. It is available to purchase through Cheval Sport, and costs less than $1/day per horse. While every horse is different, results from using the Moulin Blend have been seen after 1-2 weeks of use.