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HORSE FEED & SUPPLEMENTS FOR The Colic-prone horse

What is colic? 

In the simplest sense, colic is abdominal pain that can range from very mild to life threatening.  Generally, colic can be classified as a result of impaction, as spasmodic or as tympanitic (gaseous). 

Any horse can suffer from colic, although some appear more prone to the condition. The following have been identified as risk factors:

  • Sudden dietary changes
  • Poor feeding practices
  • High starch, low forage diets
  • Inadequate water intake or failure to drink
  • Poor teeth or lack of dental care
  • Stress, including traveling, competing or changing routines
  • Vices such as wind sucking or cribbing
  • High parasite load or previous parasite damage

Nutrition for colic-prone horses

The primary function of the large intestine is to host a microbial population that degrades feed that is not digested in the small intestine.  Bacteria, protozoa and fungi live in the large intestine and use fermentation to break down feed for nutrients.  Normally, the large intestine houses a large amount of microbe species responsible for digesting fiber to volatile fatty acids.  These acids are readily utilized by the horse and not harmful to the microbial population.  Laminitis and colic are two conditions commonly caused by changes in the microbial population due to the product of lactic acid.  When sugar and starch reaches the large intestine, it is rapidly fermented to lactic acid which increases acidity levels detrimental to the microbial population.  

Tips for feeding colic-prone horses

Unlimited access to good quality forage
Forage plays a vital role in maximizing digestion and preventing episodes of colic.  Make sure to provide at least 1.5% of the horse’s bodyweight per day in forage

Limit access to rich pasture 
During the spring, when pasture grasses begins to grow rapidly, it may be necessary to manage horses prone to colic as though they are laminitic by limiting grazing.   In addition, limiting the time on pasture when the grasses are highest in fructan levels is advisable by allowing horses to graze overnight or early morning and removing them from pasture by mid-morning

Choose commercial grains with <20% starch, high in digestible fiber and fat
When grain is necessary for additional calories, be sure to limit high starch ingredients (like oats and corn), and using fat and fermentable fiber sources when available (i.e. beet pulp)

Provide Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast
The addition of live yeast improves overall nutrient digestion and potentially limits the extent of undesirable changes associated with starch overflow into the large intestine

Feed small, frequent meals
Limit starch to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight per meal or less.  For a 1,100 lb horse, that would mean limiting starch to no more than 500 grams or 1.1 lbs of starch per meal

Feed choices to support colic-prone horses


EQ8 products include moderate starch as a highly-digestible extruded nugget.  The EQ8 products are high in fiber and include 8% or 10% fat.  This feed also contains Saccharomyces cerevisiae.


SAFE 'N EASY™ PERFORMANCE is low in starch (less than 10%), high in fiber and contains 10% fat. This feed also contains Saccharomyces cerevisiae.


SAFE 'N EASY™ PELLETED contains less than 10% starch.  It is high in fiber and contains 6% fat.


SAFE 'N EASY™ TEXTURIZED contains moderate starch (less than 15%), is high in fiber and contains 6% fat.  This feed also contains Saccharomyces cerevisiae.


Cadence™ contains moderate starch (less than 20%) and 10% fat.  This feed also contains Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Cadence™ Ultra

Cadence™ Ultra contains moderate starch (<15% starch), is high in fiber and has 14% fat. This feed also contains Saccharomyces cerevisiae.


Always make dietary changes gradually, especially for horses that are prone to colic.  This gradual change over for feeding forage is often overlooked.  Forage accounts for the largest portion of the horse’s diet and rapid changes (amount or type) can cause significant disturbances to hind gut bacteria.  As a guide, change feed over seven to ten days, exchanging one pound of existing feed for new feed every other day. You may need to extend this period of adjustment for sensitive horses.