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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

October 30, 2009

Improving on Gut Sounds

Today's little research project is HOW TO IMPROVE UPON GUT SOUNDS. Surfing the web I came up with these little gems:

#1 First ask if your horse is fit enough for the job you have asked him to do. Have you trained for the elevation, the footing (rocky, muddy, sandy, hard packed clay).
Consider if the horse is ready for the distance. If you have never ridden your horse 20 miles, is it prudent to enter a 30 + mile ride? What speed are you traveling? If your horse has trained at the walk and trot, then you may not be ready to trot the entire ride, likewise if you've trained at the trot, don't start cantering when you get to the ride (learned that one the HARD way thank you.)

#2 As you head into your check point (vet check) give your horse a little time to reduce speed, and cool out on the way in. Some riders will allow their horses to walk in the last half mile, some riders will dismount and walk in with the horse (my strategy thanks to the good mentoring of Christine Eickleberry). The purpose of this is that pulse drops and the body begins to clear the build up of lactic acid from the muscles. The muscles now no longer need the extra blood supply for this process, blood flow picks up for the digestive system and the gut "wakes up." The few minutes you lose here, you may gain back by being able to leave as soon as your hold is up rather than struggling with trying to pull a doubtful gut sound up to an A or B.

#3 In warm weather be sure and cool out the horse by sponging the neck, throat, chest, and girth areas with cool or cold water. Again, this gets the circulatory system focused back on supplying the gut vs. cooling the skin (because you have taken over that job). If you have a crew, they need to sponge, sponge, sponge!!!

#4 Here I have surely fallen on my face. Electrolytes. The electrolyte balance in the blood depends on water. Intake of water depends on electrolytes. One without the other can have an outcome of "not so good" to "we have a freakin" big issue here." I've not given Phebes electrolytes other than in her feed the night before and morning of. She wouldn't eat her feed on Saturday morning, hence no e-lytes! She also is not a good drinker on trail. By the time she starts seeking water, we are nearly done with the ride... I believe this is our newest challenge to overcome. I'm going to experiment on some training rides with Blackstrap Molasses to flavor her water, as well as offering water with and without electrolytes.

#5 Fiber. If the horse is to store water and electrolytes in the gut, think away from your feed concentrates and more towards hay, beet pulp, and soupy mashes. Phebes did real well stuffing her face with hay. She did eat her beet pulp mash the night before, but refused the mash in the morning. Though she drank overnight, it was negligible. In future I may try a yummy small mash every three or four hours as long as she is cleaning up her feed.

#7 Probiotics make for a healthy gut. Horses under a lot of stress may benefit from the use of probiotics. Probiotics are the healthy stuff that make the gut function at its best.

#8 Water should really be at the top of the list. Since so much of what happens in a horses digestive tract is dependent on water, a non-drinking horse is under a real liability. Phebes often acts like she "wants" to drink, but she is so emotionally caught up in the comings and goings of other horses that she just won't. It can take up to ten minutes of aloneness to get that quiet pocket of time she needs to feel safe to drink. This process is going to take time, and the patience of another ride partner to work at it.

Resources: David Brown BVSc MACVS, Susan Garlinghouse MS, as well as (ridecamp archives).



  1. Just remembered another tip I got when I was training for Tevis. Onn the walk in to the vet check, offer your horse some food. This will start revving up the GI tract and start the horse thinking about food. Everyone has their own tricks - I share my Nature Valley granola bars. Even if she wasn't interested in food on the trail, but using this stragey, she's RAVANOUS by the time we get to the vet check and I don't waste that 10-15 minutes in the vet check when their GI system is getting into the "eating" mode.

    HOpe this made since.

    I know some people want to keep their granola bars to themselves (*grin*) so they carry a bit of hay or grain for this purpose.

  2. Great post! Very helpful! Thanks!

  3. I do think I'm going to switch out my cantle bag for my slightly larger one so I can stuff hay in the three pockets. When we drop to a walk offer a nibble here...a nibble there. It might also dry her mouth out enough that water may seem more interesting.

    Puddin' used to share my granola bars....

  4. Lida,

    Wanted to let you know that I did read your posted comments and when I went to approve...I hit delete :(

    I'm sorry. But I did read them all.

    (who should not moderate comments prior to coffee in the AM)

  5. After having a horse with colic surgery, I think more about what he eats PRE ride too. What he eats Wednesday / Thursday, will be in the hind gut at the ride, and deposited along the trail. This goes for Probiotics too BTW, since they work in the hind gut, so feeding at the ride, not before, will not get to the hind gut until you are heading home. I don't do Probiotics myself. Just more to consider.

    I feed Timothy hay before the ride, as it is easier to digest that some other hays, and he gets his beet pulp mashes 2X a day during the week before the ride, then smaller, more frequesnt mashes at the ride.

  6. As for the drinking issue, I have been experimenting with the idea of brining a collapsable bucket ( with a small handful of grain in it for flavor and using it to scoop up and serve water while out on the trail. This works at home but I haven't tried it on the trail or at a ride. Doesn't seem difficult or like it will take up much space.