Horse Cruelty, Ignored.

Ulcers; Help your horse.Anna Sewell authored Black Beauty in 1877. She wrote the book to educate about animal cruelty and promote a more understanding approach to horses. She wrote,

“My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”

Most times we don’t have the power to actually right wrongs. It is easy to condemn obvious abuses, and feel better about what we good horse owners do for our horses. But I wonder…

In my world of committed riders and well cared for horses, I am constantly amazed at our resistance to understanding and treating equine gastric ulcers. There is no debate- every trainer agrees that if there is a behavior issue the first step is to rule out physical distress.

Disclaimer: I am not a vet. I have no license to diagnose or treat horses with ulcers.

Claimer: Symptoms are obvious- information and treatment are available. We can do better.

Ulcers are a common medical condition in horses and foals. It is estimated that almost 50% of foals and 1/3 of adult horses confined in stalls may have mild ulcers. Up to 60% of show horses and 90% of racehorses may develop moderate to severe ulcers. Some studies site much higher numbers. There is a connection between ulcers and colic; horses can eventually die from this.

With ulcers this frequent, shouldn’t they be the first guess? Shouldn’t ulcer management be as common as hoof care?

If your horse is behaving differently- tense and resistant, or a range of other symptoms, you can be tough and ride through it, and brag about your riding bravado with friends… or you can help your horse.

Simple changes in feeding can make a huge difference. Some treatments for ulcer relief are expensive, but there are so many alternative options for relief and management. Knowledge can give you a literal dose of prevention before stressful events, benefiting both of you.

Last year I was with a client, looking at a young Thoroughbred mare who was clearly showing every ulcer symptom she could- begging for help. The obedient mare tried hard under saddle, but her stress and tension were painful to watch. Her owner had just finished vet school- in my friendliest tone, I asked if she had perhaps considered whether the horse might have ulcers? She looked at me like I was crazy. Or should I say- ulcerated.

I can’t count the number of times I see good riders behave badly as their horse is struggling with stress and pain. Why pick a fight when your horse is hurting in the first place? I know it isn’t my job to be the Ulcer Police, so I hold my tongue… I share the guilt.

Here is my question -and it is not rhetorical- Why is a common ailment like gastric ulcers so hard for horse owners to acknowledge and help our equines with?


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Anna Blake

3 thoughts on “Horse Cruelty, Ignored.”

  1. Tough topic. It shouldn’t be.

    I’ve had a couple of experiences around this issue. In all cases of resistance to the ulcer idea, it boiled down not to expense, or diet changes (easy), but *work* changes. I’m guessing that is the root cause of resistance to seeing ulcers. It interferes with the schooling/showing/riding plan. It doesn’t mean we have to stop doing what we’d planned, but it might mean a little more thought and variation has to go into our plan.

    One trainer, when told by a practitioner that a horse she was working with likely had an ulcer, declared “impossible”. Then later said privately, “all show horses have ulcers, it goes with the territory.”

    It doesn’t, IMO. The owner was given all the info, and chose to go with “my horse doesn’t have an ulcer”.

    My guy is high anxiety anyway, so I check him regularly for the signs, keep him on a preventative diet, and add in things that can’t hurt. I also try not to be the cause of his anxiety, as much as possible! LOL.

  2. I treat for ulcers whenever I see issues that indicate they should be there – it won’t harm the horse and you generally see results quickly if ulcers are there. I’ve got horses that are on U-Gard to prevent recurrence of ulcers – it makes a huge difference to their attitude and willingness to work.

    But to be fair, I knew nothing about ulcers until a few years ago – have learned a lot since – I think it’s important for horsepeople to be willing to listen and learn about things new to them like ulcers.

  3. Pingback: Friday Factoids – Anna Sewell - Man of la Book

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