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From the horse's mouth: Seeking stomach solutions for stressed-out equines at Woodbine workshop

Lois Szymanski
Contact ReporterFor the Carroll County Times

It turns out, humans aren’t the only ones experiencing health issues due to stress. At a Purina HOW event hosted by Bowman Feed and Pet on Saturday afternoon, a large group of horse owners learned how to identify the signs of stress and ulcers in their horses and how to prevent it.

The workshop — at Karmic Run Stables in Woodbine — offered education, door prizes, refreshments, and free gifts to attendees. Those who turned out said they wanted to learn how to keep their equines happy, healthy and comfortable in the show ring.

Dave Kurtz, equine specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition, shared a surprising fact.

“Some 80 percent of all horses experience gastric discomfort at some time in their life,” he said, noting that stress causes levels to rise in a horse’s stomach. “The pH level in a horse’s stomach should be at 4 or above.”

He said this fact pushed his company to research and develop a product to keep an equine’s pH level up. Acid levels can rise with elevated exercise, trailering, lack of pasture or long stretches between feeding, poor quality hay and not having constant access to clean water, and horses with a nervous disposition are even more prone.

“We did a test with a group of horses, loading half up and taking them to a [simulated] show,” Kurtz said. “We tested the pH in their stomachs before leaving and then after coming back. After five days, 70 percent of the horses we trailered out had ulcers. Oddly, the ones left in the barn must have experienced stress, too, from being left behind, because 20 percent of them developed ulcers.”

After nearly six years of research at the Purina Animal Nutrition Research Center, the company has a new gastric care product, Outlast, on the market. Said Kurtz: “It’s a calcium magnesium supplement that uses a seaweed derivative that we farm off the coast of Iceland. It’s all organic and is incorporated into an alfalfa pellet to make it very palatable to the horse.”

Kurtz said horses most likely to exhibit stress include Thoroughbreds, high-level endurance horses, Standardbred race horses, and active show horses, but it’s in all disciplines in the English and the Western World.

Signs that your horse is suffering from stress include poor appetite, weight loss, poor body condition, cribbing, diarrhea and teeth grinding.

Meghan Truppner, owner and trainer at Karmic Run Stables, is a USDF Silver Medalist with 16 horses and one miniature horse in her barn. She said she believes in taking care of gastric issues.

“I am a huge stomach person,” Truppner said. “My barn was one of the first barns to have Outlast, and the new feed [Ultium] with Outlast in it. Outlast is basically giving your horse a stomach soother, like Maalox.”

Truppner said some horses with ulcers have none of the classic signs.

“I had one horse who was always behind the leg. He was one of my main competition horses, so I was on top of it. I did everything recommended, but nothing helped,” she said. “Because I was one of the barns in [Purina’s] testing I learned that his stomach hurt. I had no idea! Now, he is more than happy to go forward and be in front of the leg. I took six horses [to show in] Florida this year and not one was off their grain. There was no colic.”

Monica Jordan of Gettysburg attended the event because she has two new off track Thoroughbreds and plans to begin showing again this year.

“Being ex-racehorses and with one of them particularly high strung I thought this was important,” Jordan said. “My last campaigner had ulcers. I want to be preventative.”

Fourteen-year-old, Liz Ridenour of Catonsville came with folks who ride with her at Patapsco Horse Center. She said she has been reworking her mare’s diet and thought this would be helpful.

Lindsay Hicks of Mount Airy agreed.

“With horses, there is always more information to learn,” she said. “The horse I ride now has issues. He becomes a very finicky eater and will actually stop eating at times, and then there is weight loss. He is also a cribber, so he has all the major signs of ulcers.”

Truppner said it all starts with the horse’s stomach.

“Horses are basically introverts, who don’t tell [us] a lot,” she said. “They can’t learn if their tummies hurt. On a perfect day, I only have maybe 80 percent of [the horse’s mind]. This product allows my horses to breathe and to think showing is fun. When you get educated, you see how much it makes sense. It is a game changer.”

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