Hey there! Thank you for joining us for our Equine Nutrition and Gastrointestinal Health Online Course, brought to you by The Equine Institute. If you have horses or are simply interested in them, you probably know by now that there is an overwhelming amount of information out there on what to feed your equine friends. With numerous products, supplements, and marketing tactics, it can be difficult to navigate through all of it and make an educated decision. That’s where we come in! We are here to help you sort through the overload of information and provide you with the vital facts that are relevant to your horse’s needs. By understanding the basics of equine nutrition, how they digest nutrients, and factors such as age and daily activity levels, you can work with your veterinarian and feed provider to develop a customized plan for your horses. In this course, we will delve into topics such as the functioning of the equine gastrointestinal tract, the different forages and feeds available, essential vitamins and minerals, debunking common dietary myths, and much more. Our goal is to provide you with the most up-to-date and accurate knowledge, allowing you to feed your horse to the best of your ability and meet their specific demands and desires. So, let’s get started on this exciting journey!

Table of Contents

Understanding Equine Nutrition and Gastrointestinal Health

Equine nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining a horse’s overall health and well-being. Just like any other animal, horses require a balanced diet to ensure proper growth, development, and optimal performance. In this course, we will delve into the intricacies of equine nutrition and gastrointestinal health to help you make informed decisions about your horse’s diet.

The difference between human, ruminant, and equine digestive tracts

Before we dive into the specifics of equine nutrition, it is essential to understand the key differences between the digestive tracts of humans, ruminants (such as cows), and horses. While humans and ruminants have one stomach compartment, horses possess a unique digestive system consisting of two main parts: the foregut and the hindgut. This distinction impacts their dietary needs and how their bodies process and utilize nutrients.

Anatomical components of the foregut and hindgut

The foregut of a horse comprises the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small intestines. The stomach of a horse is relatively small compared to its body size and has a lower capacity for food. On the other hand, the hindgut consists of the large intestine, cecum, and colon. The cecum, in particular, plays a crucial role in the fermentation of fibrous materials, providing horses with nutrients and energy. Understanding the anatomy of these components is essential to comprehend how horses digest and absorb nutrients from their diet.

Functions of the various regions of the GI tract

Each region of the horse’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract serves a specific function in the digestion and absorption process. The mouth and esophagus work together to facilitate the intake and transportation of food to the stomach. Once in the stomach, the food undergoes partial digestion before entering the small intestine, where further digestion and absorption of nutrients occur. The large intestine is responsible for fermenting and breaking down fibrous materials, extracting additional nutrients. Understanding these functions is crucial in designing a diet that maximizes nutrient utilization.

Difference between active digestion and fermentation

Unlike humans and ruminants, horses rely on both active digestion and fermentation processes to extract nutrients from their food. Active digestion involves enzymes breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the foregut, leading to nutrient absorption in the small intestine. Fermentation, occurring in the hindgut, involves the microbial breakdown of fibrous materials, such as cellulose, resulting in the production of volatile fatty acids that serve as an important energy source for horses. Balancing active digestion and fermentation is key to maintaining a healthy GI tract.

Potential Health Issues

While horses are resilient animals, certain dietary and gastrointestinal issues can affect their overall health. Understanding these issues is crucial to prevent and address them effectively.

Impact of grain overload on hindgut dysbiosis

Grain overload occurs when horses consume a large amount of starchy grains, overwhelming their digestive system. This can lead to hindgut dysbiosis, where the microbial population in the hindgut becomes imbalanced, resulting in digestive disturbances and colic. It is important to be mindful of the amount and type of grains fed to horses to prevent this condition.

How and why choke occurs in horses

Choke in horses is a condition where food becomes lodged in the esophagus, causing discomfort and potential blockage of the airway. This can occur due to bolting down food, inadequate chewing, or feeding large, dry food particles. Recognizing the signs of choke and taking preventive measures can help maintain your horse’s well-being.

Etiology of stomach ulcers in horses

Stomach ulcers are a common condition in horses, particularly those subjected to stress, intensive training, or poor diet. Understanding the contributing factors and implementing strategies to prevent and manage stomach ulcers is crucial for maintaining your horse’s gastrointestinal health.

Various types of colic

Colic refers to abdominal pain in horses and can result from various causes, including gastrointestinal disturbances, gas accumulation, impaction, and twisting of the intestines. Recognizing the different types of colic and their symptoms is essential for prompt veterinary intervention and appropriate treatment.

Recognizing symptoms of colic

Colic symptoms can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. It is important to be vigilant and able to identify signs such as restlessness, pawing, rolling, lack of appetite, decreased bowel movements, or signs of discomfort. Seeking veterinary assistance promptly can prevent complications and ensure your horse receives the appropriate care.

Stereotypic behaviors in horses

Stereotypic behaviors, such as cribbing, weaving, or wood chewing, can be an indicator of underlying stress, boredom, or nutritional deficiencies. These behaviors can have detrimental effects on a horse’s overall well-being, and understanding their potential causes can help address them effectively.

Equine Diet and Nutrition

Now that we have explored the potential health issues related to equine nutrition and GI health, let’s delve into the components of a horse’s diet and the best practices for maintaining optimal nutrition.

Daily forage and concentrate intake

Forage, such as hay or pasture grass, should form the foundation of a horse’s diet. Horses require a certain amount of daily intake based on their body weight and activity level. Concentrates, including grains and pelleted feeds, can be added to provide additional nutrients, particularly for working horses or those with specific dietary needs.

Recognizing different types of hay

Hay is a commonly used forage source for horses, and it can come in various types, including timothy, alfalfa, orchard grass, and more. Each type of hay has different nutrient profiles, and understanding these variations can help you choose the most suitable option for your horse’s specific requirements.

Understanding the difference between hay and a legume

Legumes, such as alfalfa or clover, are often included in a horse’s diet to provide additional protein and energy. While legumes share similarities with hay, they have distinct characteristics that should be considered when formulating a horse’s diet.

Assessing quality and maturity of hay

The quality and maturity of hay play a significant role in its nutritional value and palatability. Learning how to assess these factors, including color, texture, smell, and leaf-to-stem ratio, can help ensure you provide the best hay for your horse.

When concentrates are and are not necessary

Concentrates, including grains and pelleted feeds, can be beneficial additions to a horse’s diet. However, understanding when concentrates are necessary, such as during growth, lactation, or heavy work, and when they may be unnecessary can prevent overfeeding and potential health issues.

Four ways to increase energy density in a horse’s diet

There are various methods to increase the energy density of a horse’s diet, including adjusting forage-to-concentrate ratios, incorporating fats or oils, or using specific formulated feeds. These methods can help meet the energy demands of working or high-performance horses.

Understanding Feed Options

In this section, we will explore specific feed options commonly used in equine nutrition and discuss their differences and benefits.

Differences between corn, oats, and barley

Corn, oats, and barley are commonly used grains in horse feeds. Each grain differs in terms of energy content, fiber content, and digestibility. Understanding these differences can help you make informed decisions when choosing the appropriate grain for your horse.

Sources of fermentable fiber

Fermentable fiber is an essential component of a horse’s diet, as it provides a source of energy through microbial fermentation in the hindgut. Sources of fermentable fiber include hay, beet pulp, soybean hulls, and more. Incorporating these sources can aid in maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal system.

Difference between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that play crucial roles in a horse’s overall health. However, maintaining the proper balance between these fatty acids is important for optimal well-being. Understanding the differences and sources of these fatty acids can help you achieve the right balance in your horse’s diet.

Essentials of Vitamins

Vitamins are vital for a horse’s overall health and are categorized as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Each type plays a specific role in the body, and understanding their differences and sources is crucial for providing adequate nutrition.

Difference between fat and water-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K, are stored in the horse’s body and can be obtained from various dietary sources. Water-soluble vitamins, including the B-complex vitamins and Vitamin C, are not stored and must be provided daily through the diet. Understanding the differences between these types of vitamins is essential for ensuring your horse’s nutritional needs are met.

How forage quality impacts nutrient availability

Forage quality directly impacts the nutrient content available to the horse. Factors such as maturity, harvesting methods, storage, and processing can affect the nutritional value of forage. Assessing forage quality and adjusting the diet accordingly is instrumental in maintaining optimal nutrition.

Importance of mineral balance

Minerals play vital roles in a horse’s body, contributing to bone growth, muscle function, and overall metabolic processes. Maintaining the appropriate balance of minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and more, is crucial for overall health and disease prevention.

Determining an appropriate formulated diet for a horse

Formulated feeds are an option for providing balanced nutrition, particularly for horses with specific dietary requirements. Understanding how to assess and choose the appropriate formulated diet for your horse’s needs can ensure their nutritional needs are met.

The Role of Nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals are products derived from natural sources that provide additional health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Understanding the use of nutraceuticals in horse nutrition and care can help enhance your horse’s overall well-being.

Definition of a nutraceutical

A nutraceutical is a product derived from natural sources, such as herbs, plants, or algae, that provides pharmaceutical-like benefits to the horse’s health. Nutraceuticals can support various aspects of a horse’s well-being, including joint health, digestion, immune function, and more.

Understanding the use of nutraceuticals in horse nutrition and care

Nutraceuticals can be a valuable addition to a horse’s diet, providing targeted support for specific health concerns or promoting overall wellness. Understanding the different types of nutraceuticals available and their potential benefits can help you make informed decisions regarding your horse’s nutrition and care.

Dealing with Information Overload

Navigating the vast amount of information available on equine nutrition can be overwhelming. In this section, we will discuss strategies for managing information overload and ensuring you have access to accurate and up-to-date knowledge.

Navigating the plethora of information around equine nutrition

With abundant information available online, in books, and through various sources, it can be challenging to discern accurate and reliable knowledge. Learning to evaluate sources, cross-reference information, and seek expert guidance can help you navigate the wealth of information and make informed decisions.

Working with veterinarians and feed providers for tailored nutrition plans

Collaborating with veterinarians and feed providers can greatly assist in formulating a tailored nutrition plan for your horse. These professionals have the expertise and experience to assess your horse’s needs and provide guidance on appropriate diets, taking into account individual health status, activity level, and age.

Understanding horses’ unique needs and demands

Horses have unique needs and dietary requirements that must be considered when formulating their diets. Recognizing their natural behaviors, digestive system, and nutritional demands can guide you in providing the best possible nutrition for your horse’s overall well-being.

Understanding Your Horse’s GI Functionality

To better understand equine nutrition and gastrointestinal health, it is essential to understand the uniqueness of the horse’s GI tract and its functions.

The uniqueness of the Equine GI tract

The equine GI tract is unique compared to the digestive systems of humans and ruminants. Horses are hindgut fermenters, relying on microbial fermentation in the cecum and colon to break down fibrous foods and extract nutrients. Understanding this uniqueness is fundamental to providing a diet that supports their digestive system adequately.

The relevance of understanding GI function to nutrition

Understanding the function of the horse’s GI tract is crucial for designing a diet that maximizes nutrient absorption and promotes overall health. Proper nutrition is directly linked to optimal GI function, and knowledge in this area can help prevent digestive issues and ensure your horse receives the essential nutrients it needs.

Maximizing nutrient absorption

Maximizing nutrient absorption is key to ensuring your horse receives the full benefits of its diet. Strategies such as proper forage selection, appropriate chewing, and managing stress can all contribute to maximizing nutrient absorption and promoting a healthy digestive system.

Debunking Common Dietary Myths

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding equine nutrition that can lead to improper feeding practices. In this section, we will debunk some common dietary myths and provide accurate and up-to-date knowledge on equine feeding.

Busted myths surrounding horse nutrition

Many dietary myths have been perpetuated over the years, leading to misconceptions about what is best for a horse’s health. By debunking these myths, we can separate fact from fiction and make informed decisions about our horses’ diets.

Understanding the most accurate, up-to-date knowledge for equine feeding

The field of equine nutrition is constantly evolving, with new research and studies providing valuable insights into what is best for horses. Staying informed and seeking the most up-to-date knowledge is essential for feeding your horse optimally and ensuring its long-term health.


Understanding equine nutrition and gastrointestinal health is vital for providing the best care and nutrition for your horse. Through this comprehensive course, we have explored the differences between human, ruminant, and equine digestive tracts, the functions of various GI tract regions, potential health issues, dietary requirements, and debunked common dietary myths. Armed with this knowledge, you can work with professionals to develop a tailored feeding plan that meets your horse’s unique needs. For further resources and information on equine nutrition and gastrointestinal health, refer to the recommended resources provided.