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Exercise Impacts Equine Intestinal MicrobiomeBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · January 3, 2017

As hindgut fermenters, horses rely heavily upon the vitality of billions of microbes that make up the intestinal microbiome. Composed of bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic organisms, the microbiome serves multiple purposes in the body, including the production of energy by generating short-chain fatty acids via fermentation and eliminating disease-causing organisms from the intestinal tract.

Alterations in the intestinal microbiome can sometimes be disastrous, like in horses that develop severe diarrhea and subsequent life-threatening laminitis. Anything that stresses a horse—such as infection, dietary changes, administration of an antibiotic, and transport—can potentially impact the microbiota.

Even exercise can be considered stressful in some situations, and one recent study* found that intense exercise and conditioning programs alter the intestinal microbiota. Specifically, aerobic conditioning and intense exercise changed the structure of the bacterial community residing within the large intestine of exercising fillies. “We found in studies at Kentucky Equine Research that fiber digestibility decreased with intense exercise, which could be explained by a shift in the fiber-digesting microbes as seen in this current study” adds Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist with KER. At this point in time, whether those changes can be construed as advantageous or not remains unclear, but certainly more research efforts into the relationship between exercise and microbiota is needed.

EquiShure is a time-released nutritional supplement that moderates pH and stabilizes the microbiome in the hindgut. Such products are particularly helpful when administered during times of stress. As always, consult with your veterinarian or a Kentucky Equine Research nutritionist before introducing any new nutritional supplement or altering your horse’s ration.

*Almeida, M.L., W.H. Júnior, J.R. Carvalho, et al. 2016. Intense exercise and aerobic conditioning associated with chromium or L-carnitine supplementation modified the fecal microbiota of fillies. PLoS One. Dec 9;11(12):e0167108.