By Heather Smith-Thomas
Horses that are hauled experience some level of stress, even when they are veteran travelers. Stress affects horses in many different ways, and some individuals show a drop in appetite for a few days after a long transport.
Bill Vandergrift, PhD (an equine nutritionist who works with several feed companies, including Triple Crown, and also has his own company called Equivision) deals with many horses and their individual problems. He works directly with trainers, riders and breeders in many countries as a consultant.
“One thing we run into sometimes, especially with performance horses, is that they go off feed after being transported. In most cases this is a sign that the hindgut is stressed. Many horses are like people. When they get stressed they internalize it, and this affects the function of the gut,” says Vandergrift. Horses are very stoic and may not show you any other signs of stress but it is affecting them internally, and more than a person realizes.
There are some products that can be given to these horses, to stimulate the appetite and get them eating again. “For horses that are off feed, you can’t put something in the feed if they are not eating, so you need a product in a paste form, or that you can mix with molasses or applesauce and give by dose syringe,” he says.
When a horse goes off feed after a trailer trip, Vandergrift says this generally indicates a hindgut problem. “For this we are primarily looking at using probiotics and prebiotics to get the hindgut working properly again—because what’s going on in the hindgut will be directly reflected in the appetite. If you can get fermentation started again, the appetite will come right back,” says Vandergrift.
“Here at our farm in Kentucky we often have horses coming in from California, and horses that have come from Europe and they’ve travelled a long ways and have gone through quarantine. They’ve had a long transport and they aren’t eating well. They may just nibble at hay and grain. We give them a paste product that contains both probiotics and prebiotics and usually within 2 days we have them back on feed again,” he says.
He and his wife Janice have a farm near Versailles, Kentucky, with about 30 Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. He has trained racehorses and working Quarter Horses and his wife is involved with western pleasure and English pleasure.
His company logo is “We are looking after your horse’s future today”. He has a line of supplements but also creates custom feeds for problem horses. When he was working with various breeders and upper level performance horse riders he ran into situations where horses had specific needs that had to be addressed. He frequently custom-mixes feed for individual horses.
Early on, he bought a small mixer and all the necessary ingredients and started blending supplements on a custom basis—to fit the needs of a certain horse or a small farm. Word got around about how well this worked, and the next thing he knew, he was in the custom supplement business. Improving the health of the hindgut is a relatively new idea; many horse owners are not tuned into this yet. When horses are stressed, however, the function of the hindgut is often affected. When hauling horses around the country to various competitions, keeping the hindgut working properly can make a big difference in their overall health and performance.