Without good Gut Health, nothing else matters. I am awed each time I think about how all this happens.
The horse's gut is a complex system responsible for turning food into energy required for the body to function. Horses are non-ruminant herbivores, meaning they eat mainly plant material. A horse's digestive system is divided into two parts: the foregut and the hindgut. The foregut includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, while the hindgut consists of the cecum, large colon, small colon, and rectum.
A horse's stomach is the smallest unit of the digestive tract, with a capacity of approximately 2-4 gallons, comprising around 10% of the total volume of the horse's digestive tract. Due to the small capacity, smaller, frequent meals are recommended. The stomach's primary functions include mixing, storing, and controlling feed release into the small intestine. The passage of feed through the horse's small intestine is rapid, moving at approximately 1 foot/min and delivering the digest to the cecum as little as 45 minutes after a meal. The volume of feed consumed and the rate of passage affect digestion and absorption of nutrients – a larger volume and increased rate of progression will decrease digestion and absorption.
Most digestion and nutrient absorption happens in the small intestine, about 28% of the total digestive tract. The horse's small intestine is exceptionally long and can range from 50 to 70 feet and hold up to 18 gallons. Here, enzymes, primarily secreted by the pancreas, work to break down proteins, non-structural carbohydrates (starch), and fats for absorption.
The digested feed enters the horse's hindgut when it leaves the small intestine. The hindgut consists of the cecum, the large and small colon, and the rectum. This is the largest portion of the horse's digestive tract (~62%) and can be up to 24 feet long and hold up to 40 gallons. The purpose of the horse's hindgut is to digest the fibrous material from their diet. Horses are known as "hindgut" fermenters, meaning that much of the fibrous material of their forage (hay/pasture) is digested in the later portions of their digestive tract. A horse relies on gut flora and can't survive without it6. The hindgut is responsible for the fermentation of fibrous material, which produces volatile fatty acids (VFAs) that are absorbed through the gut wall and used as an energy source.
Thank You for being a Caring Horse Owner.