2 common health issues in competition horses

Let’s look at two of the most frequently-occurring health issues in competition horses, so you can take steps to prevent them from inflicting your own equine partner.

Performance horses are stoic creatures. They endure miles of transport, hours of training, and higher levels of stress than those ridden casually. Usually, they fair well under this pressure, and even thrive on it! But like us, horses can break down. As a rider, it’s important for you to be aware of signs of poor health in your equine partner, and take steps toward prevention and treatment. Here are a couple common issues to watch for.

1. Colic

The issue: During transport, dietary and water adjustments, and environmental changes, a horse produces stress hormones that can easily upset the chemistry of his body, creating gas colic. Similarly, compaction colic can arise from feed changes, stress or dehydration. Both types are painful and will cause your horse to kick at her belly and/or stop eating and drinking due to pain.

The cause: While it isn’t the cause of colic, the inability to de-stress a colicky gut lies at the root of pain. The tension created in the gut acts like a bungie cord, and needs to release for the gut to function properly.

The fix: Herbs such as valerian (tincture or herb) and devil’s claw will help ease discomfort and release gut tension as they work on the nerve receptors. Turmeric and ginger also help relieve colic symptoms quickly – turmeric relaxes the gut wall, while ginger promotes the production of gastric juices. Psyllium, apple fiber pectin, or a combination of probiotics and enzymes are effective add-ins to ease gut motility during this process.

Herbal treatments should be given every few hours – or as recommended by an herbal therapist – until relief occurs, and then twice a day for one to four days after.

Editor’s note: If you suspect your horse has colic, the first step is to call your vet. While you wait for him or her to arrive, monitor your horse’s vital signs and offer something to relieve pain and tension.

2. Overexertion/respiratory failure

The issue: Your horse looks fatigued and is breathing slowly. She will not walk, lift her head or exert herself, and she appears to have difficulty getting enough air. It can resemble shock or appear as if your horse is giving up.

The cause: It lies in the blood flow – or lack thereof. Human athletes train for hours each day for events, while many performance horses only get one hour of training, four to five days per week. During competitions, we ask a horse’s heart and lungs to perform at max capacity when the arteries, veins and capillaries might not be conditioned for this. They lack the ability to increase blood flow capacity on demand, which then limits oxygen supply for recovery.

The fix: Your best plan of attack is to gradually increase the intensity of your horse’s training program. This will condition her circulatory and respiratory systems to perform better. But this is little help if your horse is already in respiratory distress. In these cases, you can use aids such as homeopathic treatments for stress, or watermelon rind extract to help increase artery blood capacity. Essential oils like peppermint and helichrysum can help open the nasal passages into the lungs and increase oxygen uptake.

Whatever remedies you choose to keep on hand, make sure they’re readily available on performance day!