No gut - no foot - no horse! How to support your horses microbiome for soundness and longevity!
The old saying "no foot, no horse" is very well known, however, recent advances in understanding the horses microbiome (the microbes which reside in the horses digestive tract) is providing more insight into what might be the cause of many challenges experienced by domestic horses today, and what might be the solution!
Leading equine microbiome scientists Equibiome claim there are links between certain populations of microbes and the manifestation of disease, and that changes in the horses environment and care is leading to proliferation of these microbes. This is leading to a "crowding out" of the desirable microbes, which are intrinsically linked to the horses wellbeing, resilience to disease and trauma, and longevity.
"Modern Equine Lifestyles Mean Dysbiosis (Gut Imbalances) are a now a fact of life" - Equibiome
What might cause changes to the equine microbiome?
We believe (but cannot prove) that the way in which horses are bred, raised and managed are predominantly responsible for a deterioration in the health of the microbiome, including:
the widespread use of agrochemicals - glyphosate (used in GM crop production and desiccation of crops prior to harvest and found in may horse feeds, forages, bedding, the air, in water, etc), has been proven to create changes to mammalian health status which is also hereditary, leading to metabolic disorders (similar to EMS in horses) in future generations
over stocking and over grazing leading to reduction in healthy soil, plant species and changes in hay; all leading to lowered biodiversity - horses are designed to browse shrubs, trees and a variety of plants to feed and support a diverse and healthy microbiome
stress of domestication - over stocking, inappropriate hoof care, use of medicines and chemical wormers, diet, lack of 24/7 turnout and ability to display natural behaviour and pain caused by asking horses to live and perform beyond their capabilities - this aspect is exponentially greater when you consider the impact of 1 and 2
Crop spraying - a common sight in our countryside today and many horses are housed next door and will absorb the tiny particles of chemical as well as from inorganic agricultural by-products found in bedding, horse feed, forage, supplements and drinking water.
What diseases might be linked to an unhealthy microbiome?
A less than ideal microbiome might be responsible for a number of diseases, syndromes and conditions, and even trauma due to a lowered resilience and health status, including:
laminitis and founder
NPAS and caudal hoof failure
ligament/suspensory apparatus disease
digestive ulcers and colic
inflammatory conditions including respiratory and skin conditions
infections, infectious diseases and parasites
metabolic conditions and obesity
faecal water syndrome
Chronic founder, pedal osteitis and abscesses following exposure to agro chemicals in a 5 year old apparently healthy TB mare called "Sun" - this horse is still in our stewardship and at 20 years old, is more healthy, following a long journey of discovery and learning what she needed to heal (organic lifestyle, biodiversity, plant healing and integrative, holistic hoof care!)
What are the signs of an unhealthy equine microbiome?
Given the importance of the microbiome on whole health and resilience, and suggested scope of disease manifestation as outlined, the signs are also varied and might including:
girthiness when saddling
reluctance to be rugged, groomed or tacked up
undesirable behaviours (in the stable, field or when exercised) including overly aggressive, spookiness, lethargy/depression and vices
unwillingness to stand to be trimmed or shod, front or hind limb
gait changes, poor canter transition, unwilling to turn, etc
poor hoof growth and less than ideal posture (eg "goat on a rock" stance) or hoof proportions (see here for more info)
obesity and tough to maintain healthy BCS
signs of pain (see here for more info)
right hind issues, saddle slip or one-sidedness
sensitivities to any changes, sensitivity to grass and general lack of resilience
excess flatulence or unhealthy droppings
foot sore and not able to keep sound barefoot on all surfaces