Every day I experience something new with all the horses I have on the property. Whether it be a scrape, lump, bodily discharge, or lameness issue there’s always something going on. In recent months, however, I’ve come across two accounts of ulcers and both have proven to be an eye-opening experience for me.
To begin with, both horses showed the same preliminary symptoms. They quit drinking and their eating habits were off. They both had an overall lack of appetite and seemed lethargic as well. Initially we assumed mild colic, but there were no outward colic signs such as rolling, pawing, sweating, or heavy breathing. They just seemed uncomfortable. The first horse exhibited more colic related symptoms, if any, so we called the vet. They decided to run a fecal blood test (FBT) and found that he had trace amounts of blood in his feces, indicating an ulcer. The second horse never laid down, but acted extremely grumpy and refused to eat. Since we had seen something similar before, we specifically asked for a FBT and sure enough, it came back positive. In retrospect, we’ve (and by we, I mean, myself and the horse owner) decided in both cases there were signs we should have spotted leading up to these more serious episodes. We noted an attitude change in both horses, irritability under saddle, and in one horse a drop in weight.
What is so interesting to me about these two cases is the fact that both had similar beginnings. They were bred as show horses, grew up in show barns, and started training early and hard. It’s old news that a staggering percentage of show horses develop ulcers, but the lasting effects of these ulcers is what really concerned me. Neither of these horses had been seriously shown or trained for about two years, yet both were still feeling the effects of those stressful times in their early days. The stress they were experiencing in reality, such as starting to ride daily again or being moved to a new barn, was unrealistically magnified by their bodies and minds because of what they had already been exposed to. It frightens me to consider what they must have been exposed to, or pushed to do when they weren’t ready. And yet, as I said, this is the norm for the show horse industry. I also have to wonder whether or not they were treated for these ulcers the first time around? In both cases, I’ll never know.
I think it’s past time to start considering that weanling classes and yearling classes and dare I say, two year old futurities, are becoming detrimental to the future of our show horses. If I had to venture a guess, these same horses will be getting injections earlier than they should, and require more maintenance joint care than the average leisure horse. When is enough enough? Will the breeding giants step up and make a stand for these great animals? Only time will tell, but something tells me that the big green-eyed monster might win out.
If you suspect your horse might have ulcers, here is a great resource I found online. It is a drug-sponsored website, but it has great information.