The horse’s digestive system works differently to humans, for one thing it has no gall bladder and secondly the angle into the stomach means that it is not physically possible for horses to vomit back food.
The processes for breaking down food are sightly different as well. In this article I have shown a 3D animated diagram (courtesy of PurinaMills) which shows how the digestive system works and where the different stages of food absorption occur.
The Equine Digestive System
The horse’s digestive system is complex and like humans they rely on absorption taking place through a long intestinal tube. However there are also differences in the way it operates and some of the differences are important to understand in order to prevent colic and stomach problems from occurring.
The main intestine consists of a small and a large intestine which sits towards the back of the rib cage.
In the diagram here taken from the video you can see the twists and bends in the digestive tract.
The intestine is designed to operate best when there is a constant flow of food through it, which keeps the tubes filled out and hard.
Gaps in the horse’s feeding can cause sections of the gut to become empty and easily twisted, causing colic or twisted gut problems.
A 3D Guided Tour Of The Horse’s Digestive Route
In this video an animated journey of the food describes in detail how each stage of the horse’s digestive system works. It is interesting at the end to discover that it can take as long as three days between food entering the mouth before it is released as horse manure.
Video is courtesy of PurinaMills
The horse’s stomach is uniquely designed and unlike a human, the drop into the stomach is so steep it is not possible for food to be regurgitated back into the mouth.
This means that the only way out is to travel the long journey through the intestine system and this can take several days.
This is one of the reasons why there is so little room for error in giving your horse a correct and regular diet, and avoiding substances that could be harmful.
Another problem is that domestic kept horses often don’t get the regular and constant feeding that they need, which can cause a build up of acid in the stomach. This can cause gastric ulcers.
Feeding Regimes in Horses
Horses were originally designed to constantly forage and eat a predominantly grass based diet.
However modern horses are often stabled especially during the winter months, and hay and haylage have become the main source of food and fibre, as well as hard feeds that lack fibre completely.
In order to adapt to this regime horses need to have the following;
- Constant access to water to ensure that food stuff does’t become dry and risk blocking the intestinal tracts.
- Plenty of fibre and no significant gaps in access to forage to ensure that the gut does;t become too loose and susceptible to twisting.
- Room to move to allow the circulation to keep using the absorbed products and prevent a build up of fats.
- Gradual changes in diet to allow the microbes in the gut time to adjust to new demands.
There are other articles on this site related to the topic of digestion and feeding, which may also be of use.