My horse Senti (short for Sentimental) came to me a “colicker”. That is to say, she would regularly experience colicking episodes that took me several years to conquer.
The first and most immediate issue I had to overcome with Senti was “nutritional starvation”. Though she was not technically underweight, she was starved due to a misguided person telling the owner that she was “fat.” They had essentially put her on a starvation diet. At what should have been a 1200lb horse, Senti was being fed just two flakes of grass hay a day and a handful of a garbage “complete” feed. With her dad being a halter bred horse, Senti is naturally heavy muscled. And with her cow bred mother, she is short in the barrel and fast on her feet. Unless she is being heavily worked, she more resembles a tall round Mini rather than a sleek sport horse. That led to the sorry advice of her being overweight and needing to be starved. This led to not only nutritional deficiencies but food aggression and digestive problems. In came the colicking issues.
My first approach was to the mental side of starvation. If you put a loose flake of hay in front of her, it was sucked up faster than a Hoover sucks up a sock! I quickly learned that all hay needed to go in a slow feed hay bag. She was also given an endless supply of hay, however, as her digestive tract was badly damaged, it still led to mild colic attacks for the first few months. I was watching for it, and when I noticed she was feeling uncomfortable, I would feed her a very wet bucket of mash with increased digestive flow herbs (ie. herbs that make you poo) and most of the time this took care of the issue. About once a year for the first three years, I had to have a vet intervene that usually had accompanying special circumstances (one of those being when I had the flu) but more on that later…
The next approach was to wet down all food and hay. Everything that was fed to her was wet down with warm water. This not only helped slow down her eating but made sure she usually had plenty of liquids in her diet.
Approaching digestive issues isn’t just about the amount of feed or even wetting it down – it's about the right feed. Mild hays in slow feed hay bags, simple grass pellets and digestive herbs and a balanced mineral mix are all important for healing the digestive tract.
Healing takes time. Sometimes it’s a matter of playing Sherlock Holmes. By Senti’s third year with me, I had thought I was in the clear regarding her colicking issues. And then a cold spell hit. As I was boarding in a barn with automatic waterers at the time, I didn’t realize that Senti would stop drinking when it got close to freezing temps. She was colicky. I walked her and treated her and she seemed to go back to normal. The next day back to being colicky. Same routine. The third day I finally called out the vet and had her tubed with mineral oil. Talking about it at home with my husband and he mentioned “maybe she doesn’t like to drink cold water”…that comment hit me like a ton of bricks and I started connecting the dots! Talk to anyone with digestive issues and most of them will say they don’t like to drink cold water, that it hurts their stomach. Senti had
The next day back to being colicky. Same routine. The third day I finally called out the vet and had her tubed with mineral oil. One day I was talking about it at home with my husband and he mentioned “maybe she doesn’t like to drink cold water” …that comment hit me like a ton of bricks and I started connecting the dots! Talk to anyone with digestive issues and most of them will say they don’t like to drink cold water, that it hurts their stomach. Senti had colicked every winter! I had always kept a close eye on her water buckets before being in a barn with automatic waterers. Though I kept a bucket of water in her stall, she preferred to drink out of the waterer, which made water drinking hard to track. A full water bucket was a sure sign she was
Though I kept a bucket of water in her stall, she preferred to drink out of the waterer, which made water drinking hard to track. A full water bucket was a sure sign she was colicking but I had always thought the colick came first! It didn’t occur to me she was colicking because she wouldn’t drink cold water! I began putting warm water buckets in her stall twice a day when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees. These buckets were always the first to be drank.
Well, after two years of continuing treatment, endless wet hay in slow feed hay bags, whole foods diet, and digestive herbs and warm water buckets in her stall for a few winters, I am happy to report that this winter Senti is drinking cold water! This as much as anything tells me that her digestive tract is finally fully healed and that drinking cold water no longer bothers her. We have had no colic symptoms in the last two years and she is even able to snack on dry hay, though she is still fed wet hay in slow feed hay bags for her main meals. She doesn’t even feel the need to eat her bucket of mash all at once but will go back and forth from hay to bucket, enjoying her food without gobbling it down. She also no longer has food aggression issues and will share a hay bag, even though she is not inclined to share her bucket!
We, unfortunately, live in a very “fast food” world. We want and expect things to happen quickly. However, there are some things in life that just take time. Figuring out hidden issues and healing from them can take years. Patience and due diligence will bring answers to your problem horses, so don’t give up!
Your horse will thank you for it.
(Picture is Senti, Summer 2017)
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