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Walk into the stall rows of any major barrel race, and you will see magnetic blankets, ceramic wraps, joint supplements, hay steamers, gel-sole booties, massage therapists, acupuncturists, vibration plates, and infrared light therapy. Each of these is a tool that serves a unique purpose in keeping a horse happy, healthy, and clocking. However, there is another tool out there that most people overlook—digestive support.

Providing daily digestive support in the feed or through supplements helps maintain balance and diversity of intestinal microbes and promotes a healthy population of “good bacteria”. Human researchers have linked use of digestive support to improved digestion, better hormonal balance, higher immune function, less inflammation, and lower stress response.

So what is digestive support and how does it work? A good feed or digestive support supplement will contain prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes. In simple terms, Probiotics are live beneficial microbes that live in the digestive tract. Prebiotics serve as nutrient sources, or “fuel” for probiotics. Digestive enzymes are needed to break down food so nutrients can be absorbed.

Adding a daily digestive support supplement, or choosing a feed with built-in digestive support, can help prevent some of the unwanted effects caused by an unbalanced gut. The simple act of adding digestive support to the diet can improve the immune system and enhance the horse’s defense against harmful toxins and pathogens. Digestive support can also increase the amount of nutrients absorbed from the diet which in turn helps with weight gain and body condition.

Digestive support enhances and balances the natural microflora.

“Most people don’t realize the microflora in the gut are partly responsible for the mental state of the horse and the immune system,” said Jyme Nichols, equine nutritionist for Bluebonnet Feeds.

Disturbances in the gut can be caused by sudden changes to diet, administration of drugs, dehydration, colic, stress from training, and travel. Scientists are going so far as to call the microflora in the gut another organ. It is becoming incredibly clear that microbes in the gut directly influence physical and mental health. As we continuously search for new and innovative ways to help our horses cope with stresses of performance, veterinary care, and old age it is safe to say digestive support is a very safe and effective tool to add to your program. Options for providing your horse with digestive support include feed or supplements in the form of pastes, powders, or pellets.

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