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What Causes Horse Colic? - And How To Manage It

All horses indiscriminate of the breed, age, and size have the potential develop a case of horse colic at some point or another in their life.

While there is no way to ensure it definitely will never happen to your horse, the best way to take steps to prevent it is to develop a strategic schedule of feeding and exercise - and understand what causes horse colic.

Management techniques can make or break a horse’s chances of successfully avoiding suspecting to colic.

What Is Horse Colic?

Colic is simply the term used to describe abdominal pain. In the equine body, colic is most usually caused by an issue in the gastrointestinal tract.

There are various different types of colic, but distention(gas), spasmodic(random, unexplainable), and impaction colic are some of the most regularly occurring types.

The understanding of the equine body, specifically the digestive and gastrointestinal tracts is essential applicable knowledge for any individual who wishes to work around and own horses.

The Equine Gastrointestinal Tract

The equine gastrointestinal tract is designed in quite a peculiar fashion; the small intestine is “free-floating” in the horse’s gut, which can allow the organ to become twisted.

The large intestine, because of its size, is folded a number of times in order to fit.

The folding and changes of direction, also known as flexures, have been known to be the cause of impactions. Impactions occur when the food traveling through the digestive system is too dry and becomes unable to move, therefore causing blockage as more food continues to come through the area.

Impactions can also occur when the path the digested food is traveling on becomes too narrow. This is known to happen commonly in the pelvic flexure.

The confusing and poor design of the equine digestive tract is one of the biggest factors in what causes horse colic.

It can prove itself to be a large obstacle for many horse owners in their quest to ensure their horses are in the best condition possible.

What Causes Horse Colic?

While the equine gastrointestinal tract has some features that make the horse more susceptible to colic, poor management practices can be just as dangerous to the horse’s health as its medical predisposition, if not more.

Some things that are known to be the leading causes of colic are:


Not feeding enough

Irregular feeding schedule

High grain content diet

Low forage content

Moldy feed



While these are some examples of the most common factors that are known to cause colic, there are more.

It is important for all horse owners to be extremely conscious of their feeding methods, as well as the exercise program that they have designed for their horse.

Horse Colic Symptoms

There are many different types of horse colic symptom, and your horse may display just one, or several of them.

Here are the most common telltale signs of horse colic:

Rolling on the ground
Curling of the upper lip
Stretched stance with hind legs far behind
Increased sweating
Increased breathing rate
Low appetite
Extreme dullness
Extreme agitation
Bloodshot eyes/lips
Pawing/scratching the ground
Looking at the flank
Kicking or biting at the flank
Increased tail swishing
Repeatedly lying down and getting up again
Lying on their back
Violently throwing themselves to the ground

Working To Prevent Horse Colic With A Balanced Diet

Keeping all of this information in mind, it is important to communicate closely with your veterinarian in order to develop a personalized feeding plan and exercise schedule for your horse in order to take all the necessary precautions in the prevention of colic.

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet for your horse is the very first step in the upkeep of a regular digestive tract.

A horse’s diet should be comprised of mainly forage, meaning grass or hay.

Energy packed supplements should be avoided, as should large amounts of grain in the diet.

The horse should also be fed in smaller meals that are spread throughout the day to allow the food to move smoothly through the digestive tract before the next meal.

Because of the complicated nature of the guts of the horse, meals must be broken down into smaller segments to avoid blockage or impaction.

In addition to this, clean and fresh water should be available to the horse at all times.

Maintaining your horse’s hydration levels are essential in the prevention of colic and regulation of digestion, as dehydration has the potential to cause the digested food to become solid, which prevents it from moving smoothly through the digestive tract.

The Role of Exercise In The Prevention of Horse Colic

Daily turnout and exercise are also key factors in maintaining the health of the horse and avoiding colic and other gastrointestinal issues.

In this case, the old saying “a body in motion, stays in motion” is quite true.

Having a form of output for the energy obtained from their diet is a horse’s natural way of keeping their digestive tract regular.

In the wild, horses are able to remain constantly active, and therefore have no issues burning off the energy that they intake through their diet.

Horses in captivity only have the ability to exercise either during sessions with their rider or with other horses during their turnout. It is for this reason that it is important to design a plan for daily exercise and turnout for your horse.

Try to arrange to have your horse turned out for as long as possible when you know you will not be able to make it to the stable for a ride.

When you are able to ride, make sure that you design an exercise and practice regimen that will benefit your horse and assist them in balancing the amount of energy taken in through diet and the amount of energy burned off with exercise.

If you are unsure about what changes you can make that can benefit your horse and aid in the prevention of colic, speak to your veterinarian.

He or she will be able to help you develop both an exercise and diet plan that is custom tailored to your horse for the best results.

Colic is an unfortunate reality for many horse owners and can prove to be quite a frightening experience for all of those involved. While it can happen to any horse, it is important to ensure that you are taking all necessary precautions to help your horse avoid becoming susceptible to colic.

It certainly never hurts to be too cautious, especially when the health of your horse is concerned. Speak with your veterinarian to begin developing a custom diet and exercise plan that will help prevent colic to keep your horse healthy and happy.

To see more informative equestrian blogs and to learn more about our products here at Paddock Blade, check out our site!



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