Getty Equine Nutrition

Equine Digestion - It's Decidedly Different


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This popular book explains the function and form of the digestive tract and shows you how to feed in sync with the way your horse is made. The information presented here will empower you to make the right choices for your horse.

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Paperback - 66 pages.  ISBN  9781493544622.


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  • Equine digestion is the very foundation of your horses' health: the physiology of the horse's digestive system. So many aspects of horse health depend on the horse's "person" understanding the reasons that compel the horse's natural diet and eating habits, and many complex health problems can be prevented or alleviated through a deeper understanding of how horses are made on the inside.

    This book explains the function and form of the digestive tract and shows you how to feed in sync with the say your horse is made. The information presented here will empower you to make the right choices for your horse so you won't need to rely on your neighbor, or your feed store clerk, or "conventional wisdom," or even traditional practices for such vital decision-making. You will know the right way to feed and you'll be able to talk knowledgeably to those involved with your horse's care.


    • Anatomy of the entire gastrointestinal tract
    • Comparison between dogs, cow, humans and horses
    • What's best - hay or grain first?
    • What happens in the stomach?
    • How is fat processed without a gallbladder?
    • What are the functions of the pancreas?
    • Is all fiber the same (there are five types!)?
    • What happens in the cecum?
    • Where do ulcers occur and why?
    • What causes sphincters to weaken?
    • Digestion changes as horses age
    • What's in manure?
    • Four steps of feeding forage free-choice

    About Dr. Juliet M. Getty

    Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices. Dr. Getty’s goal is to empower the horseperson with the knowledge to provide the best nutrition for his or her horse’s needs.

    Dr. Getty is the author of the comprehensive resource, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, as well as seven topic-centered Spotlight on Equine Nutrition series of booklets:

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    She also offers an informative e-newsletter, Forage for Thought. Opt-In here. Her Resource Library offers a world of useful information for the horseperson, including a library of her past articles, tips and recordings. Her Free-Shipping Store helps horse owners choose the right supplement for their horse’s specific needs.

  • Excerpt from Horse Digestion - It's Decidedly Different!


    Now we move in to the hindgut where feedstuffs can remain for 36 to 48 hours. The hindgut encompasses the cecum, the large colon, the small colon, and the rectum. The cecum and large colon are the major sites of microbial fermentation and absorption of fermentation products.


    The cecum is a fermentation vat very similar to a rumen but it has about 32 quarts in capacity compared to about 32 gallons the rumen holds, so it’s about a fourth of the size. Nevertheless, it is pretty large and feed will stay in the cecum for about 7 hours.In the cecum, billions and billions of bacteria and protozoa produce enzymes that can digest fiber.

    The design of the cecum seems a little crazy, frankly. The entrance to the cecum from the small intestine is at the top and so is the exit into the large colon. The entrance and exit are also quite close together.

    Picture this -- see diagram of digestive tract: You have all of this fiber that was not digested in the small intestine coming into the cecum where gravity pushes it to the bottom. The cecum is a very muscular organ that can contract and push on this forage and mix it with water and digestive fluids and all of the bacteria and enzymes, but in order for the muscles to push the forage mixture out through the top to get to the large colon, the cecum needs to be full; it has to have enough volume of materials so that when it contracts, it squishes the matter out through the top. It’s like squishing a toothpaste tube on the bottom; it goes out through the top.

    Imagine it this way: If the cecum is not full, then the process is hindered and the matter won’t get conducted into the large colon for the next stage of digestion. This can lead to impaction colic. Sand can also accumulate over time leading to sand colic.

    The answer? Feed the horse forage all the time, along with sufficient water. But be careful. Hindgut bacteria take time to adjust to a new feed, so make any feed changes gradually over a period of 2-3 weeks to give the bacteria time to adjust. Otherwise, your horse could colic.


    There are five different types of fiber I’d like you to be aware of. Cellulose is a water insoluble fiber, as is hemicellulose. Cellulose and hemicellulose are digestible by the bacteria. Another fiber, lignin, is not. Lignin is like wood; the more mature the grass is when it’s cut to make hay, the more lignin it will contain.

    If you look at your hay analysis report, it will show a number for neutral detergent fiber or NDF; this is a measurement of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin; this is the best measure of how digestible your hay is. If the number is high, over 60%, for example, the hay will not provide very many calories for your horse because it will contain a lot of lignin.

    There are two other kinds of fiber: pectin and mucilages. These are water-soluble fibers than form a gel which actually helps push the fiber out of the cecum. Also if the horse has ingested any dirt or sand (a concern for sand colic) you may give him psyllium (which is high n mucilages) for a week out of every month. that produces a gel that helps the sand move out of the cecum. Psyllium can be fed more often, even daily, depending on the soil condition in your horse's environment. A daily dose of psyllium has also been shown to lower blood insulin by inhibiting glucose absorption.