Hauling Stress – Part 2
This is the second post in a 3 part series on the stresses of hauling especially in the hot summer months. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
Hauling long distances to races often times creates enough stress to begin acid production. Add in multiple days of competition plus a change in environment and you have the perfect storm to create ulcerated tissue.
In as little as five days, an overly acidic stomach can result in mild to severe lesions of the stomach lining and throughout the digestive tract. A study published in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science notes that as many as 90% of performance horses have some kind of ulcer.
While some horses are extremely stoic and do not show symptoms of digestive distress, the main behaviors you should watch for are:
- Loss of appetite; picky or slow eaters
- Weight loss
- Recurrent Colic
- Overly sensitive to leg pressure
- Excessive tail swishing
- Poor hair coat
- Decreased performance
- Failure to train up to expectations
- Behavioral changes
- Chronically sore back
- Teeth grinding
If you notice a change in your horse that includes any of the above behaviors, you need to palpate your horse for ulcers.
For sensitive horses, or those known to have gastric ulcer issues, veterinarians often advocate the use of an omeprazole product a few days before hauling or a competition. The drug’s acid reducing and neutralizing traits enable owners to minimize the risk of stress-induced ulcers associated with increased work regimens, stressful new environments and extensive hauling.
Ulcers and hindgut acidosis are best managed through a good diet and digestive health supplements. Most of these products contain natural ingredients designed to soothe, reduce inflammation and promote a healthy pH balance. Look for products that have aloe vera, slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, pre-biotics and pro-biotics which are combined to support the digestive tract.
For minor cases of digestive discomfort or for those young horses getting hauled to simply gain experience without the stress of competition, a supplement alone can be very effective. Once again, make sure the product does not include ingredients like soy, grains, processed grain byproducts nor the toxic metal aluminum or Bentonite type clays, which contain aluminum.
Diet will also affect horses with Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM), which has been identified as the most common cause of tying up in Quarter Horses. Tying up is also known as “exertional rhabdomyolysis” or ER.
PSSM causes muscles to accumulate unusable carbohydrates, leading to exercise intolerance. Acute, severe episodes of tying up may include difficulty moving, a strange cramped-out stance with a tucked-up abdomen and muscle twitching in the flank and hindquarters. Moderate to severe sweating may occur during these episodes.
Inadequate nutrition, especially diets which consist of high levels of concentrates (grains) and insufficient bio-available electrolytes, is often the single largest contributor to tying up. Sporadic ER may also be the result of muscle trauma, overexertion due to lack of proper conditions, or exhaustion.
Research also suggests that female horses over the age of two are more susceptible to developing ER. Episodes are more likely to occur during estrus or “heat”. The correlation between heat and ER is not fully understood, but studies have shown that treating mares with synthetic hormones like progesterone (Regu-mate®) tends to lessen the number and intensity of ER episodes experienced.
The best way to support a horse with ER-tendencies is to feed a high fat, low carbohydrate diet and to provide appropriate exercise. Common feeds such as oats and sweet feed can negatively impact horses which suffer from ER episodes due to the high amounts of simple sugar. Feeding higher levels of fat sources such as rice bran or olive oil will provide the horse with alternate forms of energy in order to avoid using simple sugars as energy within the diet.
Managing electrolyte levels is essential when dealing with horses which suffer from ER episodes. They cause the horses’ muscles to stop functioning properly as a result of sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium levels becoming imbalanced. After an ER episode, it is crucial to provide a high quality electrolyte supplement for about two weeks.
The unfamiliar and stressful environment of a barrel race can cause horses to become moody, aggressive or anxious. This makes it difficult for both horse and rider to focus. Supplementation is often used to help competitive horses become more emotionally balanced at events.
Boosting serotonin levels to promote feelings of wellbeing can often have calming effects on horses. Vitamin D3 and the amino acid L-Tryptophan can help to produce more serotonin in the body. Glutamic Acid encourages the body to soak up excess adrenaline and support calm and relaxed behavior. Magnesium is also used as a calming mineral by veterinarians to encourage an even temperament.
For moody horses, especially mares, progesterone is often used to reduce irritability and aggression. Progesterone facilitates thyroid hormone action and acts as a natural anti-depressant. Tyrosine is an amino acid which encourages an even temperament. B vitamins can help to prevent mood swings by balancing cortisol (the bodies’ primary stress hormone) levels.
In Part 3 of the series we will cover immune compromise which can be brought on by the stress of hauling.