After the Canberra fires in 2003, large numbers of horses, unharmed by fire, died. One lady who sent me a hair sample of her dreadfully ill horse was agisting on a property where over twenty horses had died in a little over a week. The main symptom was diarrhoea.
The grass was burnt and nothing edible was left. In their area, weeds like the poisonous Pattersons Curse were the first things to grow and Pattersons Curse is not kind to horses.
According to my testing, it wasn’t the poisonous weeds that were killing the horses (although they may have contributed in some cases with the stomachs being more sensitive and less able to cope) it was feeding too high in protein, too low in the kind of roughage that makes the fibrous mat in their bottom of the horses stomach that is SUCH an essential part of the horse’s healthy digestive system – i.e. plain hay.
Thankfully, the testing and healing session was successful and many other successful enquiries followed. The results of those healing sessions are what I have based this article on.
Because there was no grass for the horses, the horse lovers of Canberra mostly increased their hard feeds – so the protein content of the feed was doubled and even tripled in some cases – a very understandable thing to do in the circumstances. Increasing the protein of bucket feeds in times of shortage is not good for the horses’ digestive system.
Too much protein was only one reason for the disaster though. Hay was incredibly hard to get hold of and the horses lost all the fibrous mats that are formed in the bottom of their stomachs by chewed up hay.
This fibrous mat formed from dried grasses or hay or other rough feed, is an essential part of the digestive system. It stops the other feed from going straight through the stomach and gives the stomach time to work with the digestive juices, on its part of the digestive process.
This fibrous mat is only pushed through to the next stage, when new rough feed, i.e. hay or dried grass etc, comes in to the stomach.
There are two problems that happen when no new hay comes into the horse’s stomach regularly. One, the fibrous mat starts to rot, creating acid in the stomach. Kentucky Equine Research Centre identified that stomach ulcers start in a completely healthy horse within 4 hours of them eating no new hay or hay type roughage, due to this acid. (They attributed this as the reason that at one time a shocking 97% of thoroughbred race horses they tested had stomach ulcers.)
Secondly, when the fibrous mat has completely rotted away, the whole digestive process is compromised and food moves through the whole system way too fast, without nutrients being absorbed properly – a cause of diarrhoea.
So to be very clear, how can we stop the horses getting sick after fire?
Feed as much good quality plain grass hay as you can afford. Not lucerne hay, not oaten hay, not clover hay – but plain grass hay. ½ a bale a day is not an unreasonable amount for a horse who has no grass. A little hard feed of your choice, with minerals that suit your country.
But whatever else you feed them, keep up the plain grass hay, people – it’s the main ingredient for success!
If you haven’t got them already, please notice the amazing and completely free gift The 9 Keys for Happiness with Your Horse. Enjoy! And if you’ve had a fire, take care and feel free to email me on the contact page at the top of every page for any personal advice.