Anna Sewell authored Black Beauty in 1877. She wrote the book to educate about animal cruelty and promote a more understanding approach to horses. She wrote,

“My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”

Most times we don’t have the power to actually right wrongs. It is easy to condemn obvious abuses, and feel better about what we good horse owners do for our horses. But I wonder…

In my world of committed riders and well cared for horses, I am constantly amazed at our resistance to understanding and treating equine gastric ulcers. There is no debate- every trainer agrees that if there is a behavior issue the first step is to rule out physical distress.

Disclaimer: I am not a vet. I have no license to diagnose or treat horses with ulcers.

Claimer: Symptoms are obvious- information and treatment are available. We can do better.

Ulcers are a common medical condition in horses and foals. It is estimated that almost 50% of foals and 1/3 of adult horses confined in stalls may have mild ulcers. Up to 60% of show horses and 90% of racehorses may develop moderate to severe ulcers. Some studies site much higher numbers. There is a connection between ulcers and colic; horses can eventually die from this.

With ulcers this frequent, shouldn’t they be the first guess? Shouldn’t ulcer management be as common as hoof care?

If your horse is behaving differently- tense and resistant, or a range of other symptoms , you can be tough and ride through it, and brag about your riding bravado with friends… or you can help your horse.

Simple changes in feeding can make a huge difference. Some treatments for ulcer relief are expensive, but there are so many alternative options for relief and management. Knowledge can give you a literal dose of prevention before stressful events, benefiting both of you.

Last year I was with a client, looking at a young Thoroughbred mare who was clearly showing every ulcer symptom she could- begging for help. The obedient mare tried hard under saddle, but her stress and tension were painful to watch. Her owner had just finished vet school- in my friendliest tone, I asked if she had perhaps considered whether the horse might have ulcers? She looked at me like I was crazy. Or should I say- ulcerated.

I can’t count the number of times I see good riders behave badly as their horse is struggling with stress and pain. Why pick a fight when your horse is hurting in the first place? I know it isn’t my job to be the Ulcer Police, so I hold my tongue… I share the guilt.

Here is my question -and it is not rhetorical- Why is a common ailment like gastric ulcers so hard for horse owners to acknowledge and help our equines with?


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Comment by Jackie Cochran on February 11, 2011 at 11:26am

Probably because it takes time for knowledge to spread.  I had not really heard much about equine ulcers until the last decade or so.

Makes me glad that I kept my horses in pasture as much as possible.

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