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The C Word ~ How to prevent colic

how to prevent colic in horses

Since colic can be caused by so many different things, it is virtually impossible to completely prevent colic in our horses. However, how we manage our horses can reduce the risk of them developing colic.

Food and water management to prevent colic

Unsurprisingly, how you feed and water your horse can have a huge impact on how likely they are to develop colic. Following these six management practices for looking after your horses digestive system will all help reduce the risk of colic.

Fresh, clean water

Your horse should always have access to fresh, clean water. Studies have found that horses who are without water for just two hours have a higher risk of developing colic.

Get them moving

Ideally your horse should be turned out or at least get to walk around every day. This is because movement helps the horse digest their food. It is one of the reasons you see more colic in stabled horses.

Forage, forage, forage

Your horse should have constant access to forage. It can be grass, hay, chaff or fibre mash. But ideally your horse should always have access to forage. This is because the horses stomach is designed to always be grazing. Not having access to forage can lead to stomach ulcers, which has links to colic.

Make changes slowly

We all know that when we change our horses diet, we should do it slowly. But do we really know why we should do this? It is to do with the horses gut. Bacteria are responsible for a big part of the digestion in the horses gut. Each type of bacteria breaks down a specific type of food and unsurprisingly, the more your horse eats of a certain food, the more of that bacteria there are.

But when we change our horses diet, they might need different bacteria to digest it. If we don’t change the food slowly, then there might not be enough of the bacteria to break it down, so the food might not get digested properly, causing problems. This is a common issue when the spring grass suddenly shoots up. The bacteria in the gut is overwhelmed and can’t cope.

Avoid feeding on sandy ground

When grass is limited, we often supplement our horses with hay when they are out. But if they are turned out in a sand pen or your fields are a bit sandy, you need to be careful about feeding them hay. If they eat some of the sand with their hay it can build up in the gut, causing a blockage. So while we don’t want to leave them without forage, you shouldn’t feed hay from the floor. Instead try a haynet or manger. This will reduce the risk of them accidently eating sand.

Routine management to prevent colic

But it’s not just how and what you feed them what can reduce their risk of developing colic. There are other routine management practices you can put in place to help prevent your horse developing colic.


All horses should be on a worming schedule. It might be a worming routinely throughout the year or only worming when egg counts say you need to. But every horse should have a schedule in place. This is because worms and other parasites can not only cause colic, but can do permanent damage to your horses digestive system.

Visits from the dentist

Every horse should see the dentist at least once a year. If a horse has sore teeth they might not be eating properly, or not chewing their food properly. This can increase their risk of developing colic.

Be careful when working them hard

Some horses have hard jobs and we can’t avoid working them hard. But we should be careful when upping their work. We shouldn’t push them further than they are ready and we should allow them plenty of time to recover afterwards. When horses work hard, their digestive system slows down. Sometimes horses then colic after being exercised too hard and this is probably where the logic of not feeding your horse for 30mins before and after a ride came from. While it is not a good idea to give your horse a big feed before exercise, we do now think that they should have a small amount of forage before as this can help prevent ulcers.

Keep stress to a minimum

While we don’t intentionally stress our horses out and sometimes things are out of our control, we should always take steps to reduce our horses stress levels where possible. Whether it’s making sure they are one of the first horses in from the field in the afternoon to avoiding hacking with horses who wind them up, we all know what sets our horse off. If they are prone to colic or ulcers, I would always take extra steps to reduce their stress levels as it can make these problems worse.

Last Updated on 29/06/2021

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