Preventing Colic on the Road

How to reduce your horse's risk of colic when traveling away from home.

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Horse in a trailer

Travel and competition are stressful events for horses. Leaving home and changing daily routines can add a variety of colic-producing conditions:

  • If your horse is used to being on pasture, a sudden change to dry hay can throw his digestive tract into a tailspin. Introduce grass hay a couple of weeks before travel to accustom him to drier feed.
  • A horse used to a hay-only diet should be grazed sparingly when away from home. Suddenly eating/consuming pasture grass when he isn’t accustomed to it may result in excess fermentation and gas in the bowel, leading to painful colic.
  • Pelleted complete feed products require a lot of intestinal water to digest. If you are feeding one of these, it helps to prepare it as a wet mash to improve water intake.
  • Before offering large quantities of dry food (hay or complete feed products) after exercise, make sure your horse is well cooled down (a temperature of less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit). Otherwise, blood is diverted away from the intestines to the skin and muscles to dissipate heat. Reduced intestinal circulation leads to trouble.
  • To improve water intake, incorporate it into the feed to make soupy mashes or pre-soaked hay.
  • When away from home, don’t suddenly start feeding something your horse isn’t used to. Be conservative with any changes to the feed program and whether or not to offer new things. This includes not only grain products, but vitamins, minerals and other supplements.
  • Prepare and condition your horse for the level of competition he will be asked to do. Proper conditioning improves your horse’s ability to cope with exercise stress and limits loss of hydration and electrolytes through the course of transportation and showing or other activities on the road.

The best way to keep your horse out of intestinal trouble is to keep things consistent. The KISS philosophy, i.e. Keep It Super Simple, is a useful mantra to use when feeding horses at home or away.


This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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