Most Performance Horses Thought to Have Ulcers


Research published in 2005 revealed the presence of ulcers in the colons of performance horses. According to the study, conducted by Frank Pellegrini, DVM, 63 percent of horses involved in competition sports, ranging from dressage to racing, suffered from colonic ulceration.
Pellegrini’s work confirmed the findings of earlier studies, showing that 87 percent of horses have gastric ulcers (ulcers of the stomach). When combined with his findings on the lesser-understood issue of colonic ulcers, however, his study demonstrated two startling facts. He found that 54 percent of performance horses suffered from both gastric and colonic ulcers. Further, Pellegrini’s study showed that 97 percent of performance horses had some type of ulceration.
“This research suggests that ulceration in the colon may be to blame for the low grade anemia, colic and other conditions seen frequently in high performance horses,” Pellegrini says. “Most importantly, it brings into focus the need for further research on the direct causes of colonic ulcers and how exactly they affect the horse.”
Pellegrini’s research proves that colonic ulcers exist prevalently within the performance horse population. Unfortunately, no treatment now available can cure them. Omeprazole, used for gastric ulcers, was formulated for the specific conditions found inside the stomach and will not positively affect the delicate colonic environment.
“Given that more than 60 percent of all performance horses may be suffering from colonic ulceration, which cannot be treated with traditional ulcer medications, it may be time for equine caregivers to consider other options,” Pellegrini says. “A dietary supplement intended to maintain optimum digestive tract health may be the best solution to preventing colonic ulcers before they negatively affect performance and attitude in the horse.”
One approach to promoting overall digestive tract health involves the use of non-testable, natural foodstuffs to heal the intestinal tract and support good health throughout this critical system. Among the ingredients of such a diet is the sort of natural fiber found in oats and barley. To be certain, more information on a natural approach to preventing ulcers in performance horses is on the horizon.

Further Reading
More than half of horses tested found to have stomach ulcers

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Cindy Hale
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show...


  1. I am not surprised that performance horses suffer from ulcers. Considering the lives they live – mostly stalled & very little access to free grazing – it would be amazing if they did not have ulcers.

  2. My horse is not a performance horse, but was recently diagonosed with colon ulcers. He has been on Gastrogard and has improved. Although I,m not sure if it is due to the Gastrogard or changing him to a pelleted feed. I am told he will have to be on a pellted feed for the rest of his life. Maybe this is something learned since this article was published. Does anyone have more current information on the subject?
    P.S. It’s been just over a month since he was diagnosed and treatment started, and he is doing wonderfully! So there is hope if your horse gets the diagnosis.

  3. I work as an equine nutritionist, and the idea of putting a horse on a “natural diet”, and then using the terms oats and barley in the same sentence is a contradiction. Wild horses do not seek out grain products in the wild. They desire the best quality grass, that contains the best digestible fiber and highest nutrients possible. Oats, corn and barley are all very high in starch and non-digestible fiber. My guess is that poorly digestible fiber sources in the horses feed and poor quality/stemmy hay are big culprits of these ulcers.
    The recommendation of a pelleted feed makes sense to me because the components in a QUALITY pelleted feed are typically lower in starch and higher in fiber and digestibility, which more closely resembles the horses natural diet of grasses. I would suggest checking out and reading about the importance of feeding your horse like a horse. It should help you make sense of the pellet recommendation. ADM on a whole always suggests pelleted feeds. Too much starch in the diet (cereal grains and sweet feeds) can destroy fiber digesting bacteria in the digestive tract. Perhaps that too could aggravate a colonic ulcer?
    I hope this makes sence and helps :0)

  4. My horse Diamond had a colonic ulcer and she had sudden symptoms. She did have heaves though. It can be treated because they gave us many medicines to take home and give her. They would have worked if the ulcer wasn’t so progressed. By the time we found the ulcer it was 20 inches long.

  5. I have a 15 yr old Hanovarian that was Dx’s with Ulcers. He is a dressage competition horse. My vet told me to buy Equiflora from Natren Inc. He says that the Equiflora has a special super strain of Acidophilus called NAS that no other probiotic has and that can stick to the intestinal wall to increase the ph and protective mucin layer of the intestine and crowd out the bad bacteria. Giving the ulcer time to heal safely. the bonus is that while he is on this stuff. What ever feed he eats he is able to utilize more of the nutrients. I gotta say, after 4 months of using it. It works! Im a believer. It also has another strain of probiotic too but I forget what it is. But, Im so sold on this stuff! I also like the fact the company makes their own probiotics as well as human versions too. So they just dont relabel other products and sell it as their own.

  6. We had a draft horse last summer that had ulcers. He would be fine and then have bouts where he would not eat at all. We were told to try aloe vera juice (you can buy at WalMart & some drug stores). The difference was amazing. We fed him 1/2 cup right on his grain twice a day. He went from not eating to cleaning up his grain and his appearance also improved. He did not have any more bouts of not eating at all.

  7. Ulcers have always worried me, I have two performance horses who travel a lot for shows and I always wonder if they might have them, great article!

  8. My horse suffered with gastric ulcer…it was a terrible experience. I used a recommended natural product U-Guard (not U-gard) that I got at Big Dee’s. It worked great. I keep my mare on a preventive dose….just in case.


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