When considering equine digestive health, practitioners are inclined to think first of the portion of the gut they can visualize with a three-meter endoscope—that is, the stomach.
The prevalence of stomach ulcer treatments also serve to keep the stomach in the forefront when discussing GI health with colleagues and clients. But, it is important to remember what may be the most important part of the horse’s GI tract: the hindgut.
The hindgut is significant for a number of practical reasons. First, it is physically large. Second, the whole of equine digestion depends on a healthy hindgut. That means the horse’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients requires the hindgut to function properly. And the horse’s ability to perform and its general health and wellbeing are, in turn, dependent on the availability of nutrients and energy that result from efficient digestion. This alone should give the hindgut some status, such that it warrants more attention and the best efforts of all caretakers to keep it healthy.
The hindgut is also the source of many health conditions that, when they arise, require intervention. One example, and perhaps most obviously, is equine colic. Colic is the number one health threat to horses and a constant source of worry for owners. While the technical definition of colic is abdominal pain, most vets in practice recognize colic as a condition primarily of the intestinal tract, including the small intestine and the colon.
That upwards of 10 percent of all horses suffer a colic episode each year means the horse owner is constantly on high alert for the tell-tale signs. The simple fact that a horse has a 1-in-10 chance of a colic episode in its life, and the hindgut of the animal is significantly involved, means the hindgut warrants attention. Beyond colic, the hindgut is also important because horses suffer from colonic lesions and other inflammatory conditions there.
Finally, the hindgut is important because it serves as home to literally trillions of microbes, including a wide range of bacteria, which are only just beginning to be understood. This bacterial population, known collectively as the “microbiota,” plays a significant role in the horse’s digestive process, as well as overall health and well-being