With a herd of 11 horses, there have been more than a few instances where I’ve noticed a horse is not eating or moving normally. Or their belly is swollen, hardened in some areas, spasming etc. Usually I notice signs of digestive upset early, so I can administer help before anything gets serious.
But I’ve also had a few serious cases too:
- Montaro is standing on a hill far up the ranch and away from the house and pole barn. He hasn’t moved all day and it doesn’t look like he’s laid down at all. He’ll take sips of water, but he hasn’t pooped for two days. He takes a few mouthfuls of hay and then stops. I can see that his intestines are spasming (colic) and that is likely why he has not pooped.
- I receive a video of Zorra collapsed on the ground and breathing heavily, her hind legs are drawn up to her belly. My barn help arrived in the morning to find Zorra in this state.
Having experienced and healed myself of a serious digestive disease, and then healed my firstborn baby’s colic, I’m pretty fluent in all things GUT. So I probably approach equine colic from a different perspective than most vets.
I’ll share with you what I’ve done (and in 17 years of owning many horses it has always worked).
Colic remedy & ingredients
Purchase the following supplements to treat equine colic (keep these on hand):
- 2 bottles of human-grade Magnesium oxide (preferred) or magnesium citrate in powder form. If powder is not available, then get the highest dosage per capsule so you can, and open up the capsules to release the powder inside. Do not buy from your local feedstore as it will likely be mixed with a bunch of other minerals and mystery powder.
- 1 bottle of human-grade Vitamin C powder in ascorbic acid form (not buffered, no mineral ascorbates – just ascorbic acid). Dosage will likely be 1000 mg per 1/4 tsp.
- 3 litres (3 quarts) of Organic cold-pressed flax oil
What’s great about these 3 substances (Vit C, Mag, Flax) is that not only do they all stimulate peristalsis, but they are also muscle relaxants + anti-inflammatory.
The basic recipe for the Colic Remedy is:
- 10,000 mg magnesium citrate
- 10,000 mg Vitamin C (ascorbic acid form)
- 2 cups flax oil
- 1 cup alfalfa pellets
Mix together in a feed dish and offer it to your horse. This will usually produce a bowel movement in 1-3 hours for a horse with mild symptoms.
If your horse is having more severe colic symptoms, then have him in an arena (big enough to move around freely) that also has fresh water. You want to be able to see when/if he poops. Offer the feed dish 2-3 times per day until he has a bowel movement, but no hay. Do NOT confine the horse to a stall! The horse must be able to move/walk to deal with pain and also to stimulate a bowel movement. Think about when you’re constipated – the best stimulus for the bowels is colonic massage (see Colic Pump below) and walking.
Likewise, if your horse is not moving, don’t force her to walk. If he wants to lie down, or roll, allow him to follow his body’s guidance. Trust your horse’s body wisdom. You may have heard conflicting information, but Dr. David Ramey debunks all these myths in this excellent article.
Also perform the Colic Pump and/or call in an equine therapist trained in Craniosacral therapy to administer treatment:
The Colic Pump is a palpation, or massage technique to use with horses who are showing signs of intestinal distress, or, who are actually colicking. Please watch the ENTIRE video before attempting this as there are many nuances that are crucial – especially note the need to work at liberty if at all possible and to ask the horse’s body for permission before beginning.
Try to stay grounded and balanced and centred in the midst of all of this happening at once. You cannot be in urgency, or reactivity. You are the centre and have to hold the calm in the middle of the tornado.
The best way to avoid colic is to support the horse’s gut BEFORE any issues arise. As I mentioned before, the Colic Pump is a great method to use at the first sign of belly discomfort, or food or poop irregularities. But here’s what else should be part of your regular horse health regimen:
1. Low sugar, free choice hay or grazing. If you can’t offer pasture, or low sugar hay in a slow feeder that’s available 24/7, then the next best thing is to at least put their hay into a hay net. Horses produce stomach acid around the clock, so if they don’t have any food in their systems for hours, then the acid is aggravating their mucosal lining, leading to pain, inflammation, and ulcers. Which all contribute to equine colic.
2. Adequate movement & companions. Horses need to be able to move – to walk, trot, gallop, roll and lie down. If you think locking a horse in a stall is a healthy life, try locking yourself in your bathroom for 22 hours/day and see how you feel. See how your bowel movements are. And you are not even a flight/grazing animal! Likewise, if you think being in a 30×40′ paddock alone all day is a healthy environment, go ahead and spend a few days in your living room alone – no phone, no computer, just yourself, but you can go run around your back yard, and wave to your neighbour, carrying a 30 lb backpack for an hour each day – that should keep you healthy and happy right?
3. Probiotics. All my horses received high quality probiotics 3x/week, until I moved them to our 160 acre wilderness ranch (where they can receive healthy bacteria from their natural environment). At any signs of ill health, I would double their probiotics – because the gut is the center of health in the body and most of the immune system resides in the gut. Along with more neurotransmitters than the brain! If you give your horse (or yourself!) any kind of painkillers, antibiotics, wormers, vaccines, you must follow with high dose probiotics. If you have a horse prone to colic, give them daily probiotics, and be sure to increase dosage after any kind of digestive issue.
4. Flaxseed or Cold-Pressed Flax Oil. Flax is wonderfully anti-inflammatory. Flax seed also provides the amino acids missing from hay and grass, so that’s a double benefit. Cold-pressed organic flax oil will moisten the contents of your feed dish and prevent choking. However, flax goes rancid very quickly (which will cause gut problems) so the solution for flax seed is to either grind it fresh every 1-3 days and store in a cool place, or purchase micro-milled flax. Flax oil MUST be cold-pressed and needs to be stored in a refrigerator. I don’t have refrigeration at my barn, so I would feed cold-pressed organic flax oil in winter, and then shelf-stable hempseed oil or coconut oil in summer.
5. Address emotional/spiritual issues. Both of the severe colic episodes mentioned above (with Montaro and Zorra) had strong spiritual/emotional aspects. Their stories are deep, multi-faceted healing journeys and so are part of the herd’s Apprenticeship Program. Remember that horses use their bodies to mirror us, or send us messages. Body ailments like colic, or choking are severe, serious messages that must be delved into immediately. But sometimes we can avoid these serious messages by paying closer attention ongoing. Notice the smaller signs, symptoms, messages your horse is sending with their body – then they won’t have to escalate the message, or get louder.
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.