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
As guardians of the domestic horse, we need to be sure we can identify the root cause of behaviours which can indicate pain or that "something isn't quite right", and the microbiome may play a big part in the manifestation of behaviours which indicate pain.
“Horses should be happy and it is our obligation not to exploit them. Quite simply, a pain-free horse will perform so much better." - Sue Dyson, leading lamnenss diagnostic vet.
How to support the microbiome of the horse
It stand to reason therefore that supporting a horses microbiome (or equibiome as it is commonly called) can provide a solid foundation for health and soundness. Horses, like us, are a product of their internal and external environment and have the ability to heal, provided the environment is conducive of the healing!
Here are some top tips to support your horses microbiome:
Consider a consult with us or another expert who appreciates a holistic/integrative approach and has experience with assisting owners of horses with similar issues. We work in collaboration with your horses team (vet, farrier, EP, trimmer, nutritionists, therapists) and can sign post to experts who's input may be influential.
Work holistically to support your horses resting, grazing, playing and exercise environment - we recommend Equiculture and Equicentral in helping create and manage an environment which provides the best opportunity to promote a healthy microbiome
Improve the health and biodiversity of your grazing land with expert help from Agriton who can take soil samples and provide advice on improving your horses grazing environment for a more diverse and sustainable crop
Source or make you own biodiverse organic hay and include as many traditional ley species as possible and avoid modern high yielding species such as Italian Rye
Allow your horse to browse a diverse range of health promoting plants to feed the microbiome and encourage healthy microbes. There are many groups on facebook who can help you identify the best plants to grow and graze and Equibiome can help with this too
While you consider the above recommendations and put plans in place, support your horses microbiome by ensuring your horses forage is balanced nutritionally. Nutritional advice can be found from nutritional leaders such as Thunderbrook Equestrian and Forage Plus
A dry lot or loafing area as outlined by the Equicentral principles allows for controlled grazing and prevents soil erosion and is a practice which has been adopted by Holistic Reflections CIC. It can allow for soil and grazing improvements to be implemented and gives horses an area to live, rest and play in without being confined to stables. It also helps manage metabolically challenged horses!
Can supplements help the microbiome and digestive system of the horse?
In our experience, YES! Supplements should be used within a holistic approach and might support a beneficial environment for health promoting microbes to thrive in. Equibiome will provide recommendations for pre and pro biotics and feeds useful in supporting the microbiome and in addition, we have found the following supplements and products very useful in supporting our equine partners health and resilience at Holistic Reflections CIC:
Proferm pro and pre-biotics
EquiNectar digestive enzymes
Remount digestive cleanse
Gut restore herbs designed to assist with digestive function
APF adaptogenic herbs to support the stress response
Immubiome G-Tract targeted nutritional support for the digestive tract
Relyne GI targeted nutritional support for the digestive tract
For a whole horse and yard approach, consider effective microbes - we have a starter kit designed for a holistic approach to supporting the microbiome of the horse!
If you think your horse might have challenges with his or her well-being and resilience, consider the microbiome. We fully appreciate from first hand experience, and after helping dozens of horse owners on their journey seeking solutions; that knowing where to start can feel daunting! We are here to support you and your horse and can provide consultations to help identify the issue and signpost to solutions and people to best assist you. We provide a report for you to share with your team and can also provide expert integrative hoof care. Contact us today or browse our equine consultations and book a service with us today!
"Sun", happily grazing once more after years of grass sensitivity and after overcoming a myriad of health challenges including an "inoperable tumour" (which completely resolved once we relocated to an organic environment), laminitis, pedal osteitis, kidney issues and more! Photo taken at our HQ at Holistic Reflections CIC, West Cumbria, England. Photo taken in early May 2021.
Beccy Smith BSc ADAEP EBW
Diploma in Advanced Applied Equine Podiatry and Independent Equine Podiatrist, Consultant and Therapist
CEO and Founder of 100% Non-Profit Community Interest Company Holistic Reflections CIC
If, like our clients, you want to learn a PRO-Active approach to hoof care and wish to prevent lameness in your horse, consider booking us for an Integrative Podiatry Consult, Educational Event, Mentorship, On-line Course or join our new VIP membership where you can learn top tips straight from an expert!
We take an integrative and holistic approach to whole horse hoof and body health. We appreciate the relationship between body, limb and hoof and seek to address imbalances while positively influencing appropriate static and dynamic hoof balance and biomechanics.
Beccy Smith BSc DAEP EBW – Independent Equine Podiatrist and CEO of Holistic Reflections CIC
Holistic Reflections CIC – a 100% non-profit organisation promoting wellbeing and resilience in people, horses and the environment - for the benefit of all.