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Natural and Supplemental Buffers May Aid Equine DigestionBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · February 23, 2016

Horses evolved as grazers, and in order to consume sufficient forage to meet caloric demands, they must graze for many hours each day. Thus, their digestive system is designed to function through continual ingestion and processing of small amounts of forage.

As soon as a horse rips a blade of grass or grasps a piece of hay, digestion begins. Throughout the digestive process, ingested feedstuffs encounter numerous digestive fluids. One, in particular, causes problems. In the stomach, horses constantly secrete hydrochloric acid, which is naturally neutralized, or buffered, by saliva.

“When a horse isn’t eating, there is no saliva to neutralize gastric acid in the stomach. Horses kept in stalls for extended periods of time, fed only once or twice per day, or fed a high-concentrate diet are prone to gastric ulcers,” explained Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). “Without a near-constant source of forage or a buffering supplement, gastric acid can cause painful ulcerations in the lining of the stomach, and this leads to any number of health concerns.”

Nutritional buffers can prevent the formation of gastric ulcers in sport horses fed high-concentrate diets and all horses that experience long periods when they are not ingesting any food.

In addition to preventing gastric ulcers, nutritional buffers can protect the microflora of the hindgut by maintaining an appropriate pH for hindgut microorganisms.

RiteTrac, a nutritional buffer developed by KER, packs a one-two punch, protecting both the stomach and the hindgut. RiteTrac contains a combination of antacids and coating agents, which shields the stomach lining and neutralizes gastric acid, creating a healthy environment. RiteTrac also features a slow-release hindgut buffer called EquiShure, which works to normalize the pH of the cecum and colon. RiteTrac is available in the U.S. and certain other markets; Australian horse owners should look for these products.

For horses that are bothered by only hindgut problems, EquiShure is available as a standalone product in many areas. “Signs of hindgut problems include reluctance to eat, weight loss, changes in manure consistency, and some behavioral problems, including stable vices such as wood-chewing and stall-walking,” said Whitehouse.

For many horses, the body’s natural buffers, including saliva, and a supply of forage will keep the digestive tract operating smoothly. For others, however, nutritional buffers are crucial for maintaining a well-functioning gastrointestinal tract.