Equine Feed & Gastric Ulcers

Man, that title sure does sound super sexy doesn’t it? Hahahaha.

So last week, I attended a seminar on equine feed and gastric ulcers given by the amazing Dr Marty Adams at the Southern States Cooperative hosted at my incredible local feed store; Gregs Feed & Farm Supply.


Gregs Feed And Hay FB Profile Photo JPEG

There was a great turn out and we all were ready to get our learn on and some questions answered. The purpose of me writing this is to pass along the information to those who were unable to attend or are not near a location to which Dr Marty and his team are headed. Knowledge is power folks.

I shall start out by saying a word or two about Dr Marty (Martin) Adams, PhD, PAS. He is an Equine Nutritionist and Horse Feed Manager with Southern States that passionately loves his research and work which is blatantly written all over his face and heard in his words. It is amazing to see such a fire about something that someone loves to do. Not only was he a captivating speaker but taught everything clearly so that everyone would understand. We communicated via email in the following days & didn’t seem bothered one bit about my inquiries or questions. Again and again, Dr Marty kept obliterating the glass ceilings of great impressions. We need more people like him around in our circles.

So what do you feed your horse? Grain? Grass? Hay? All of the above? What is best to feed your horse and in what amounts? Feed to hay ratios can be difficult. Where you live can be a factor that plays into what and how much your horse eats…but as all us horse owners know; our horses eat better than we do and that is A-OKAY with us.


So let’s start with hay. Foraging is the foundation of the equine diet as it provides daily nutrient requirements, maintains the integrity of the Gastro Intestinal tract and minimizes vices (undesirable habits). There are three (3) categories of hay; Legume, Mixed and Grass. Legume species of hay include alfalfa, clover & birdsfoot trefoil. Grass hay species consist of timothy, ryegrass, orchardgrass, fescue, bluegrass & brome. Mixed hay species is obviously a mix which is usually made up of some grass and legume plants. Some horse owners will give their horses coastal (or bermuda) hay which is a draught tolerant grass type of hay and is leafier than other grass type hay. Coastal/bermuda hay is more common in the southern states of the US or desert states. I see many horses owners buy two types of hay depending on their horses needs. As you have probably guessed or know by now, every single horse is different (just like people) in the sense that alfalfa hay may work great for one horse but horrible for another. Horses may not need to consume the high level of nutrition that legume hay offers as it may affect different aspects of it’s behaviour, lifestyle and so on.

Here is a table provided by Dr Marty with quality estimates on all of the different types of hay for horses:


Per The Kentucky Equine Research (KER) micronutients in hay and feed are essential your horses diet. Crude protein is defined as the approximate amount of protein which is calculated from the determined nitrogen content by multiplying by a factor. According to Dr Marty, it is a good idea to keep crude protein limited to an approximate 8-14% on an as fed basis.

ADF (Acid Detergent Fiber) is defined as “The ADF value refers to the cell wall portions of the forage that are made up of cellulose and lignin. These values are important because they relate to the ability of an animal to digest the forage. As ADF increases the ability to digest or the digestibility of the forage decreases.” – Agrianalysis, 2009.

NDF (Neutral Detergent Fiber) is defined as “The NDF value is the total cell wall which is comprised of the ADF fraction plus hemicellulose (present along the plant cell wall). NDF values are important because they reflect the amount of forage the animal can consume. As NDF percent increases, the dry matter intake generally decreases.” – Agrianalysis, 2009.

Grass hay will generally provide sufficient nutrients to all classes of horses except for breeding/lactating mares or growing horses where as legume hay can provide twice as much nutrients for certain classes of horses leaving an excess of both protein and calcium not being absorbed by your horse.

Side note: avoid alfalfa if you have an HYPP horse. HYPP stands for Equine Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis Disease which is a muscular disease caused by an inherited genetic mutation. HYPP has been traced back to one horse named Impressive and has the alternative name, Impressive Syndrome, named after this horse. Symptoms of HYPP may include muscle twitching, unpredictable paralysis attacks which can lead to sudden death, and respiratory noises. Severity of attacks varies from unnoticeable to collapse or sudden death. The cause of death is usually respiratory failure and/or cardiac arrest.

So how much forage for your horse? Dr Marty suggests a minimum 1% DM (dry matter) of body weight per day (10 lbs DMB (dry matter basis) = 11.1 lbs AFB (as fed basis) at 90% dry matter). A mature horse can consume up to 2.5% DM of it’s body weight per day. However, the important thing to take away from this section on hay, is good quality matters! You want greater than or equal to 8% crude protein, 40% or less ADF and 60% or less NDF. Now this doesn’t just mean flakes of hale;  this covers baled hay, hay cubes, chopped hay,  and pasture – you want long stemmed fibers at least 1-1.5 inches in length. Sticking to the 8/40/60 rule helps maintain weight well. When horses chew the hay it produces saliva which has bicarbonates in it which ups the pH. The higher the pH, the less acidic your horse’s body will be.

Dr Marty recommends the following for each of the different types of horses:

  • Mature Performance/Lactating/Maintenance Horses: 1.5% BW/day as fed basis (AFB)
  • Pregnant Broodmares: 2.0% BW/day AFB
  • Foals: 0.5% BW/day AFB
  • Growing Horses (6-12 months): 1.0% BW AFB
  • Yearlings/Two/Three: 1.5% BW/day AFB
  • Older Horses (>25 years): 0.5% BW/day AFB in processed forage (chopped hay, cubed hay – hay that is processed in a finer consistency that is easier for them to eat).

So have I confused the heck out of you yet? I hope not. So let’s now move on…

Horses need NSCs which are Non-Structural Carbohydrates. These can be found in grains, cool-season grasses and molasses. NSCs in horse feed contain starches and sugars that are an important source of energy, especially for active horses. The glycemic reposonse to these NSCs usually occur approximately an 1- 2 hours after the meal. So if your sport horse needs a little get up and go before a race; that is the when he/she will feel the energy from his food the most.




So how else does the feed you choose affect how your horse? We use food to fuel ourselves, so do horses. We try to eat foods with high nutritional value so we can look and feel our best. As horse owners, we do the same for our horses. Each horse is different so each horse responds to certain feed types in different ways.

Let’s look for a second at the Equine Body Condition Score (BCS) in relation to feeding your horse. The diagram below is provided to us courtesy of Dr Marty Adams again.


Your horse’s BCS is based off of 6 points on your horse’s body. The 6 points are labeled above; along the neck, along the withers, loin, tailhead, ribs and behind the shoulders. Depending on how these areas look, they are analyzed on a scale of 1-9. A good place for your horse to be, depending on what activities/job your horse has, is anywhere between a 4 and a 6. He recommends an athletic horse to be in the 5.5 to 6 region and brood mares need to be a solid 6 for example.

So for feeding the overweight, easy keeper or Equine Metabolic Syndrome Horse things are a little different. These types of horses can be generally classified for example as Fjords, Icelandics, Morgans, Paso Finos, pony breeds or minis. These horses have a tendancy to “get extra fluffy” shall we say at normal feeding rates which increases the risk of laminitis. Laminitis for those who don’t know, is a painful inflammatory condition in the tissues of the horses’ hooves that bond the hoof wall to the pedal (coffin) bone in the horses hoof. It can affect any horse, of any sex or age, at any time of the year.

Here is Dr Marty’s super cool flow on the 3 components of EMS:


In the case of these horses, we need to reduce the caloric intake in order to reduce the body condition. Dr Marty recommends feeding moderate quality grass hay at 1% to 1.5% of target body weight then adjust to desired body condition. Along with the hay he also recommends, feeding Triple Crown Lite at 1 pound per 500lbs of body weight and to make up for any other nutritional “holes” to use Triple Crown 30% Supplement or Legends Balancer Pellet at 0.5lb per 500lbs of body weight.

Balancer pellets help meet nutrient needs in certain places that are lacking but you also have to keep an eye on blood glucose & insulin levels. Spring and Fall is usually the time we see the most founders happen because the sugar is higher in hay/pasture. You can give them less hay and balance it out with the balancer pellets. For example if you have an overweight barrel horse but want get up and go, you need to regulate blood glucose and insulin.


If you have a hot horse lower the sugar and starch in their feed. You can also use supplements. Increasing omega 3s in their diets will help also. Studies have shown that increasing omega 3s in directly correspondent to increase in stride length. Three good omega 3 sources are linolenic (ALA) so flaxseed for example, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, so fish oil) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, which is fresh water algae). Soy oil and chia seeds are great also. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA. Every 1/4 -1/2lb of feed, your horse should be getting 20 gms of linolenic acid. For those questioning whether whole or ground flaxseeds make a difference; there is no research to suggest any difference. Flaxseed is not just a great omega 3, it helps in Spring when shedding out that winter coat of your now fluffy baby as they fat supplements help with coat and itchy skin issues.

Another side note: reducing hay intake by 1% 3 days prior to an event or race; reduces body weight by 2% which could make a world of difference when it comes to shaving off speed in the sport/athletic horse side of things. Just remember to keep your horse hydrated at all times, especially if training, stressing or traveling. Flavoring the water can help  if you horse doesn’t like to drink water at a certain arena. Flavor the water a couple of days leading up to the show & then at the show/arena. Add electrolytes and/or salt to keep things normal.

So what kind of job does your horse have? Let’s compare a Western Pleasure Horse and Speed Horse (barrel horse).

The more speed work your horse does, the more starch and sugar (not just fat) your horse needs in its diet. Why? To refuel muscle glycogen & delay fatigue. Fat can (not will but can) help if the only work is mainly aerobic (walk to trot) and even then it is only 5% of their daily diet. So the Western Pleasure horse will need a low starch, low sugar feed and this will allow him to keep his head and be less excitable. A barrel horse on the other hand will need high starch, high sugar but don’t go over 20% for an IR or IRC (Insulin Resistant) horse. There is no one perfect feed out there. Each horse is different so finding the right balance for you horse might take some time but you will get there. Dr Marty and I have faith in you.

If all else fails or you just want to make sure you are giving a great balanced diet to your fur-babies…wait for it….THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT!


So how does this relate to gastric ulcers? Well all of the above goes where? Your horse’s stomach. Where do gastric ulcers occur? Your horse’s stomach. Dr Marty defines ulcers as “caused by hydrochloric acid secreted by parietal cells in stomach and lactic and other acids formed by fermentation of sugars and starches in stomach” – The stomach is lined with protein. The lower half is protected from mucus and hydrochloric acid. The upper half  of the stomach is unprotected and this is usually where the ulcers will arise. So how do you know if your horse is susceptible to ulcers?

SSC 10

Research studies that have been done over a number of years have shown that ulcers in horses occur in 90% of racehorses, 67% of endurance horses, 40% of performance western horses (roping, penning, cutting and barrel racing), 58% of show horses and 37% of pleasure horses. So when your horse runs or moves around a lot (performance western horses, endurance horses and racehorses) it causes stress and splashing in the stomach. The stress and splashing hits the upper half of the unprotected stomach lining and voila! You have a recipe for a gastric ulcer.

The risk factors for ulcers are:

  • Stress
  • Transportation
  • High grain/low-hay diet
  • Stall confinement
  • Intermittent feeding
  • Intense exercise
  • Racing
  • Illness
  • NSAID use
  • Management changes.

Do any of these sound familiar? To the performance Western horse, endurance horse and racehorse owners, it sure does! You always have a show to take your horse to each weekend, sometimes you rent a stall, depending on the show, stress, intense exercise and racing usually happens at or around these shows. It is not a bad thing, your horse has a job and loves it but sometimes, like we humans do, we have a bad-tummy day and nothing works right when we are like that. The same goes for our horses.

NSAIDs (non-steroidial anti-inflammatory drugs) such as bute or banamine can decrease muscus production which increases risk and opportunities for ulcers to occur.

So how are you to know that your horse has an ulcer? He (or she) can’t exactly tell you verbally, can they? Signs can be:

  • Acute or chronic colic
  • Excessive recumbency (lying down)
  • Poor body condition
  • Poor appetite or partial anorexia (not finishing grain meal or hay)
  • Poor performance/training/decreased stride length
  • Attitude changes
  • Stretching to urinate
  • Inadequate energy
  • Chronic diarrhea

Scoping for ulcers can be expensive and cost anywhere from $300 and $400 a pop. Omeprazole (Gastroguard and Ulcerguard) can be given but the risk of the ulcers coming back sooner rather than later inevitable. It is expensive to use and can significantly decrease the calcium in your horse’s body. Adding alfalfa to diet one hour before you ride can help MINOR ulcer issues but that is only a band-aid for the problem not a permanent solution.

Dr Marty recommends Gastro-Tech –  “Legends GastroTech Supplement is an innovative nutritional supplement recommended for all classes of horses and is research-proven by Cooperative Research Farms (CRF) to maintain gastric health in show and performance horses. This proprietary blend of ingredients is an excellent recommendation for horses under stress from training, competing and traveling. Legends is a premium horse feed line, formulated with advanced technology and the most comprehensive current research for your horse’s nutritional needs. Our Legends Supplements are additives which have been developed to supplement the nutritional demands of different dietary needs” – Southern States, 2016. Compared to all the other treatments for ulcers Gastro-Tech, the gastric ulcer supplement, the cost comes out to $0.75 a day! Whaaaat?!?!?!?!? You aren’t rushing around and spending chunks and chunks out of your hard earned money on last minute treatments. You know you would rather be spending that money elsewhere…like at tack stores, or tickets for the rodeo, or entry fees for another show.

If you suspect that your horse has ulcers, call your vet or check out Gastro-Tech but if you have any questions for Dr Marty and his team, they are absolutely incredible. His email is marty.adams@sscoop.com and he usually responds rather quickly but the man is in high demand with all the seminars and research studies he is doing so be patient with him.

I hope I passed along some great information to you from a great seminar by Dr Marty Adams, PhD, PAS. I enjoyed it thoroughly and cannot wait to attend another seminar. As horse owners we are always learning as those babies love to throw us curve balls every now and then. Have a great weekend and show those four-legged companions some extra lovings for me!

Your truly,

International Cowgirl xoxo





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