“A horse is not a horse. A horse is a fermentation vat on four legs with an attitude,” said Dr. Bill Vandergrift, Ph.D., at the start of the Triple Crown Nutrition Lunch & Learn presented during Week 4 of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.
The animal nutrition expert presented, “Gut Instincts: Feeding for Health & Performance,” which drew a large audience and spurred a dynamic question-and-answer session after demonstrating how communication between various parts of a horse’s body plays an integral role in its overall digestive health.
Vandergrift introduced new research findings related to leaky gut syndrome, insulin resistance and equine metabolic syndrome, antibiotic therapy, and more.
“There is now evidence to indicate that one of the causes of insulin resistance in horses is leaky gut. So, if you can fix the leaky gut, you can reduce the severity of insulin resistance,” he explained.
Leaky gut syndrome occurs when the tight, protective junctions between enterocytes of the intestine are compromised, breaching the “blood/brain barrier” and leading to intestinal and behavioral disorders.
“The digestive system communicates with the other organs. It’s a ‘Bluetooth connection,’ so to speak,” he said, adding how an estimated one quadrillion digestive bacteria, representing more than 500 different species, populate a horse’s gastrointestinal tract, so choosing the right diet to support intestinal health is vital.
“Stress is the number one stimulator of leaky gut and intestinal inflammation problems,” Vandergrift noted. “There’s a definite relationship between leaky gut and systemic allergies, like hives.”
Environment (sand versus soil), parasite loads, metabolic status, and intensity and frequency of exercise also impact the healthy and diversity of a horse’s microbiome health. “We’ve observed that insulin resistant horses demonstrate a reduction in that diversity,” he said.
Referring again to the gut/brain relationship that can exacerbate leaky gut syndrome, he advised the use of calming agents.
“My go-to feed for treating intestinal inflammation is Triple Crown Senior, because it’s a beet pulp-based feed, and when you feed beet pulp, it ferments in the hind gut and produces organic acids which act as food for intestinal cells, helping the intestine regenerate faster,” Vandergrift said. “Also, it’s low starch and low sugar. With intestinal inflammation, you don’t want a lot of sweet feed.”
Triple Crown Nutrition is official feed sponsor of the U.S. dressage, eventing and show jumping teams, and was proud to present at the Lunch & Learn Series at the Winter Equestrian Festival.