By Jyme Nichols, Director of Nutrition, Bluebonnet Feeds and Stride Animal Health

Horses are sensitive animals, especially when it comes to digestive health. Any changes, such as disruption to their normal feeding behavior, physical or emotional stress, health or general wellbeing can cause digestive dysfunction. Under the impacts of training and travel, barrel horses are particularly sensitive to most, if not all, of these at some point.

Without proper management, your horse can experience serious consequences, such as weight loss, immune dysfunction, endocrine dysfunction, diarrhea or even colic.

Gut and Digestive Health Considerations

Fortunately, research and information regarding these risks to digestive health continues to grow, so you can be more proactive in recognizing and addressing these issues. When it comes to gut health, there are a few areas that have become hot topics in conversation:

  • Providing daily access to pasture or free choice hay, as horses are hind gut fermenters, whose bodies are designed to consume forage regularly and consistently.
  • Reducing environmental stressors and modifying nutrition programs to aid a healthy gut lining and help prevent gastric ulcers (squamous and glandular). 
  • Examining hind gut dysfunction to properly identify and differentiate between issues like dysbiosis, intestinal inflammation, leaky gut syndrome and colitis.

However, there is one more critical component to a healthy gut that is all too often forgotten—the liver. Liver function plays a critical role in regard to digestive health. In fact, the liver helps create a buffer for the small intestine, specifically the part called the duodenum, where the breakdown of food continues after it leaves the stomach. This buffer also helps reduce the predisposition to glandular gastric ulcers and duodenal ulcers.

The liver is also responsible for the production of hormones and digestive juices, which control everything from iron absorption to intestinal motility. A healthy liver is required for adequate digestion and absorption of dietary components, contributing to the overall wellness of the horse. Liver dysfunction can lead to excessive growth of bacteria and intestinal inflammation, resulting in dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome.

Addressing the Complexities of Digestive Health through Nutrition

Supporting a healthy digestive system can be a multi-faceted and complex task. Nutrition has a direct impact on the health of the tissues within your horse’s digestive tract to reduce inflammation and digestive dysfunction, including:

  • Maintaining proper gut pH
  • Buffering stomach acid
  • Supporting the protective layers of the stomach and small intestine
  • Aiding rejuvenation of the cells and epithelial tight junction

Along with a balanced nutrition program, vet treatment for medical issues such as ulcers, and stress and environmental management, some horses may benefit from additional support through natural solutions.

Select a solution that addresses the holistic view of the digestive tract, including research-backed ingredients that:

  • Buffer stomach acid. Look for ingredients like lithothamnion (red algae), dried seaweed meal, or seaweed-derived calcium
  • Help sooth and support the protective layers of the stomach and small intestine.
  • Include prebiotics and probiotics to help keep your horse’s microbiome balanced.

As always, look for products with researched-backed ingredients, such as GASTRO pHix from Stride Animal Health, which contains active ingredients to buffer stomach acid, plus extras proven to support the protective layers of the stomach and small intestine.

“GASTRO pHix includes research-backed ingredients that support normal liver function to keep the horse’s digestive system working properly,” Dr. Bill Vandergrift said. “Prebiotics and probiotics also help keep the horse’s microbiome balanced. Additionally, GASTRO pHix contains a proprietary blend of botanicals and nutraceuticals which helps horses guard against squamous and glandular gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers and leaky gut syndrome.”

GASTRO pHix is great for horses dealing with occasional gastric distress, often caused by stress during performance, travel, and training, making it a worthwhile addition to your horse’s wellness program.

“I have been using Gastro pHix on both of my barrel horses, Phoebe and Kiss, since December,” said National Finals Rodeo-qualifying barrel racer and Stride customer Shelley Morgan. “They eat it great, and their body condition is awesome. I feed it daily, so I always feel confident that they’re ready to go, whether we’re at home or on the road.”

Learn more at

Want support deciding what’s most helpful for your horse?

Visit the Stride Animal Health website to sign up for a free nutrition consult and to learn about our feed products.

To learn more, listen to Feed Room Chemist podcast episode 61: Choosing a Gut Supplement. Available on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | or your favorite platform.


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