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Ask Dr. Dave

Becky from Iowa, writes:

Dear Dr. Dave,

I have a nine year-old gelding that I have been running on barrels for approximately three years. Last year, his performance declined. He has become very anxious before he runs, when he is left alone at the trailer, and right before we feed him. I feed him Red Mills 12% performance feed and grass hay.

I had him checked by my chiropractor, who is a DVM and acupuncturist. He said when he checked his stomach points, he received severe stress signals. We put him on Gastrogard for approximately 21 days. I now supplement his feed with Oxy-Gen GI care. My vet recommends that I put him on Gastrogard three days before I compete, as well as everyday throughout the duration of my competition.

I'm curious if you can give me some insight into ulcers. Will this regimen put us on the right path to giving my horse relief? Is there something else I should be doing or feeding? Thank you for your time, knowledge and help.

Dear Becky,

Thank you for your interesting question regarding your mare and ulcers. Research has shown that ulcers are more prevalent in horses than most of us are aware. Some estimates proclaim greater than 75% of race horses have stomach ulcers. Unfortunately there is no “quick fix” for ulcers as they can be caused by a multitude of issues. I would recommend that stemming from the information garnered from your DVM/chiropractor/acupuncturist, that you have your horse scoped to confirm his suspicions. It requires a 3-meter endoscope to fully evaluate the horse’s stomach. Initial scoping should be done to establish existence and extent of the ulcers, and then follow up scopings would be useful to monitor effectiveness of treatment.

Gastrogard is the treatment of choice. It has been shown that it takes at least one month for ulcers to heal so possibly you might have stopped a little sooner than needed. Many people feel Oxy-Gen is helpful. Some recent research has also found that alfalfa hay has a buffering effect on the stomach acid and may be helpful in modifying the condition. I am not familiar with the Red Mills 12% performance feed, however I might suggest decreasing the amount or even deleting it entirely from the diet until the ulcers have healed.

Stress can be a contributing cause of ulcers, and as we are all aware, stress comes in many forms.

  • Is your mare primarily stalled, or does she enjoy a life of pasture? Stalled horses seem predisposed to ulcers.
  • Are there any lameness issues? Low grade pain could certainly make your mare anxious prior to running.
  • In what condition are her teeth? When did she last have a dental exam and a complete dental procedure?
  • What percentage of her body weight is she being fed hay? It has been shown that low amounts of roughage and high amounts of concentrate also make horses more susceptible to ulcers.
  • Is your mare in good overall health and weight? Is she in good condition?

I encourage you to “view the whole picture,” not just her diet, but her whole environment. Consult with your veterinarian. As you know, barrel horses are athletes who are under a lot of stress, and anything and everything we can do to minimize this stress makes their job easier, and usually makes us happier. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance. I wish you the best.

Happy trails and fast times,

Dr. Dave