What happens to the digestive processes in a horse during exercise?

What happens to the digestive processes in a horse during exercise?

The rhythmic sound of hooves pounding against the earth, the exhilarating rush of air, and the synchronised dance between horse and rider – exercise is a cornerstone of equestrianism. But amidst the spectacle of equine athleticism, a quieter transformation unfolds within the horse's body. 

This article delves into the intricate journey of the digestive processes in a horse during exercise, unravelling the mechanisms that allow these majestic creatures to maintain performance while managing their internal balance.

Digestion at Rest

  1. The PreExercise State:
  • The horse's digestive system is designed for a steady intake of fibrous forage.
  • The stomach and intestines are engaged in breaking down complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into absorbable nutrients.
  1. Stomach Functions:
  • The stomach's hydrochloric acid helps break down feed particles.
  • The lower portion mixes the feed with digestive enzymes.
  1. The Role of the Hindgut:
  • The cecum and colon house beneficial microbes responsible for fermenting fibre.
  • Microbes break down fibre into volatile fatty acids, which serve as a crucial energy source.

Digestive Changes in Motion

  1. Reduced Blood Flow to the Gut:
  • During exercise, blood is redirected to the working muscles.
  • Reduced blood flow can slow down the digestive processes in the gut.
  1. Gastric Emptying Rate:
  • Exercise can delay gastric emptying, leading to feed remaining in the stomach for longer.
  • This can result in discomfort or even colic if not managed properly.

Adapting Nutrient Utilisation

  1. Shift in Energy Sources:
  • As exercise intensity increases, the horse shifts from using fats to carbohydrates for energy.
  • This adaptation allows for quick bursts of speed but also generates more heat.
  1. Muscle Glycogen Utilisation:
  • Muscle glycogen stores are tapped into for immediate energy.
  • Intense exercise can deplete these stores rapidly.

Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

  1. Sweat Losses:
  • Horses sweat to cool down, losing water and electrolytes in the process.
  • Dehydration affects digestion and overall performance.
  1. Electrolyte Replenishment:
  • Sodium, potassium, and chloride are crucial electrolytes lost through sweat.
  • Electrolyte supplementation helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.

PostExercise Digestive Changes

  1. Recovery and Gut Motility:
  • After exercise, blood flow gradually returns to the gut.
  • Gut motility picks up, aiding digestion and preventing colic risks.
  1. Refilling Glycogen Stores:
  • Carbohydrates are vital for refilling muscle glycogen stores.
  • Proper postexercise feeding aids in efficient recovery. 

Managing Digestive Health During Exercise 

  1. Feed Timing:
  • Feeding should be completed well before exercise to allow for gastric emptying.
  • Postexercise feeding should take into account glycogen replenishment. 
  1. Hydration Strategies:
  • Provide access to clean water before, during, and after exercise.
  • Electrolyte supplementation can aid in maintaining hydration levels. 

Balancing Nutrition and Performance 

  1. Specialised Feeds:
  • Some high-performance horses may benefit from specially formulated feeds.
  • These feeds often include higher levels of energy-dense ingredients. 
  1. Monitoring Digestive Health:
  • Regular veterinary check ups assess overall digestive health.
  • Any signs of discomfort or changes in appetite should be addressed promptly. 

Final Thoughts 

As the horse gallops through the arena or takes on the trails, a symphony of internal processes unfolds. The digestive system, a delicate harmony of organs and microbes, adapts to the demands of exercise.  

From altered blood flow and nutrient utilisation to managing hydration and electrolyte balance, every facet of digestion plays a role in ensuring the horse's optimal performance and well-being.  

As equestrians, understanding these subtle transformations allows us to not only celebrate the beauty of equine athleticism but also to become mindful custodians of the incredible physiological journey that accompanies it. 

If you’re looking for high-quality joint supplements, consider exploring the range of products offered by us here at Equine America NZ. Our extensive selection of products along with performance-enhancing supplements provide you with suitable options to support your horse’s overall health and performance.

Please give us a call at Equine America NZ today at 0800 440 888 to learn more or leave an enquiry.