Digestion is an Essential Part of Nutrition

When it comes to delivering nutrition to the body, effective digestion is essential.

Whatever a horse ingests is a source of nutrition. That means what they eat, drink (and breathe).

Getting the right thing into the mouth is only a small part of the equation though. Yes, it’s absolutely essential that the right things are consumed and it’s equally important that the wrong things aren’t consumed. But there’s more to consider.

The nutrition that goes in the mouth has to be processed by the body before it can be used to build the horse (and the hooves). That’s where the digestion comes in.

The digestion breaks down the raw materials into a form that can be absorbed by the blood stream. It’s really important that the digestion works effectively.

If the digestion isn’t working properly, then you’re pretty much just fertilising your fields the slow way. If you poo pick regularly, then you’re not even getting that much out of it!

Digestion starts with the teeth.

A lot of people forget this part. They jump straight ahead to thinking about the stomach, but the teeth are really important to chew the food. For horses this includes where their head position is when they’re eating.

Horses were designed to eat with their head on the ground. Yes they can reach up to trees etc, but they don’t chew with their head in the air.

When their head is lowered their teeth are in the correct alignment for chewing food, and the saliva is being properly utilised. When the head is raised (for over door buckets, hay nets etc) the teeth aren’t lined up properly, and there are problems with saliva production.

Obviously any dental issues will also have an effect, but we’ll all be better off if I don’t try and cover dentistry – ask a dentist!

If however, you do have a dental problem corrected, this can increase your horses food intake dramatically, practically over night. If your horse is underweight that might be a good thing. If you have to monitor their food intake – it might be something you need to consider…

The Liver

The liver is usually left out of digestion diagrams. Maybe because it has a hand in a number of different systems in the body. But I think it’s a great shame as it plays a number of different roles in digestion.

It produces bile, which is kinda a big deal! Humans have a gall bladder to store that bile, but horses don’t. This means bile is always going into the stomach. When we call horses trickle feeders, that’s only half the story. I find thinking of them as trickle digesters (even if I am making up words) gives more clarity on the subject.

When trying to improve a horse’s digestion, I usually start with the liver. The vast majority of the time, I can finish with the liver too. I’ve found that when you sort that, everything else falls into place.

Obviously that can’t work in 100% of cases, but it sometimes feels that way!

The liver has it’s fingers in many pies, including hormone balance, dealing with toxins, production of proteins, immune system, lymphatic system, digestion (obviously) and tons of other cool stuff.

It also has a remarkable ability to heal and regenerate. There aren’t many other organs that you can safely donate part of. No-one donates half a heart, or a bit of their kidney.

The Gut

I’m not going into the fine details of gut digestion here, but I want to give you some things to consider.

The horses gut is incredibly efficient. Like all things that work to a high standard, that makes it very sensitive. Think of a formula 1 engine – there’s a reason they don’t run on diesel!

It works a little like a compost heap. Things are supposed to ferment in the hind gut. That is why gut transit time is important.

If something is going through your horse too quickly, it’s not in there long enough for the gut to draw out the nutrients. This is a problem for obvious reasons.

If things are going through too slowly it will be festering, and creating toxins. This is a major problem. You can feed the freshest, highest quality food you can find, but if it’s going off inside your horse, you’ve got a problem.

I’m not saying your horse’s poo should smell like fresh baked bread or anything. But if it smells like something died in there, that’s not a good sign. Remember that it’s inside your horse afterall!

Toxin build up is a big problem. There are toxins everywhere in our environment, no matter how much we try. We don’t want to be adding to the problem from inside the horse.

The liver is the main organ trying to get rid of these toxins and if you didn’t skip the bit above, you’ll know the liver is busy enough already!


It’s really important that we feed the right things to keep our horses healthy. It’s also really important that the body digests those nutrients well. To try to get a healthy horse without either of those things is a little like trying to drive a car with the breaks still on… and maybe the wheels missing!

Improving your horses digestion could be as simple as giving adlib hay, reducing the chemicals in the diet, or allowing more movement. Finding a solution first requires us to identify the problem, I’m mostly leaving that to you, though if you want my help, feel free to contact me.

If you’re not sure about your horses digestion, you can find a simple Digestion Health Check in the Academy Resources.

My go to fix digestion product is L94 from Trinity Consultants though they have other options, depending on the problem.

Other parts in this series

Part 1 The Importance of Nutrition for Barefoot Horses
Part 3 The Importance of Circulation
Part 4 What to Feed You Barefoot Horse

The Healthy Horse: Feeding and Nutrition

We Are What We Eat

It's easy to see why diet is so important. The body is always regenerating, it needs good nutrition to be able to build healthy cells. Nutrition is such a confusing subject though!

There's so much advice, and so many different choices, how are you ever supposed to figure out what's right for your horse?

About the author

Debs is a practicing Equine Podiatrist with over 15 years experience, author, and educator.

She’s here to show you how to simplify your horse’s management painlessly so you feel in control and have a straightforward system that works for you.

When she’s not working you can find her playing with her own horses, watching geeky sci-fi or baking epic cakes.

    • It varies, they’re not all on the same diet. They definitely get fed very differently now to how they were when I wrote this article, as they’ve moved to France and back, 1 has died, and I have 3 more.

      The toothless wonder gets up to 20 scoops of feed a day, which I image is a bit much for most horses 🙂 We’re lucky as he’s not a ‘stuff your face’ type so he can be left to self regulate. He also dictates somewhat what the others get. We often get a pallet of feed at a time for him, so the others get whatever is available from the same supplier. Mostly he gets sugarbeet, hay nuts, grass nuts, copra, linseed and I break my own rules with him and give him soya!!! (shhh don’t tell anyone!) He has issues with maintaining muscle due to a genetic problem, and being a stallion he seems to tolerate the hormone issues that can be caused by soya. (the others can’t, it’s mayhem if the others get soya!)

      The ridden one gets a joint supplement, the others don’t. I’ve actually had to send 3 of them away for the winter as there’s a problem with the grass that’s making them sick, so we’ve been doing all sorts of stuff with diet trying to deal with that issue. I hate my horses being away, but I hate them being sick more.

      The EMS one gets all sorts, depending on her needs at the time (and/or if I’m experimenting and trying new stuff)

      I really must write part 4 of this series. I’ve written it so many times and then deleted it. It’s a very difficult one to write, as either I say ‘feed this’ which is likely to be incorrect for a great many horses or I say ‘every horse is individual’ which is absolutely correct, but doesn’t actually help anyone figure out what they need to feed.

  • I’d just like to say my 22 year old arab x connemarra has benefited immensely from Trinity consultants products. I regularly feed P45 when grazing and L94 about 3x a year. My trimmer has commented on improvements in hoof strength, flare. If you know your horse well enough you ‘ know’ when things aren’t quite right. You just have to watch and ‘listen ‘. They tell you in all the ways Debs has mentioned.

  • Great article ..and like us humans to much energy is put into treatment based thinking rather than fixing the cause.. bloods aren’t accurate and the lymphatic system is where we should all be looking with humans and equines alike.

  • Yay! Can’t wait for the next one….thanks to your years of experience we can go straight to the stuff that works xxx

  • We won’t need to on balancers. I don’t loathe the term detox I loathe how it’s become so commonplace that people genuinely believe, generally without question, that it’s necessary. It’s not. Except in specific medical circumstances. Manufacturers cash in on beliefs and fears. I realise it’s up to each individual to decide how best to live, spend their money etc etc and I’m unlikely to reverse the trend but I like to try to at least get people to think about it :-).

  • I retract my initial ‘sounds like an advert’ comment. I wasn’t accusing you of making monetary gains but I understand that it could easily come across that way so apologies for that :-). Nor am I suggesting that digestive supplements have no place I just loathe the detox thing and L94 clearly states detox on its label. Thanks for engaging in discussion and not just censoring my comment.

    • Yeah, it does say detox on the label, and I’m aware that many people have an issue with that term, but…

      Well I loathe and detest the term ‘barefoot’. Drives me nuts quitely and on the inside. Because on the outside I have a blog all about ‘barefoot’ and I’m a ‘barefoot trimmer’ and I work with ‘barefoot horses’ Actually I’m interested in healthy hooves and healthy horses, and the trim is only a fraction of what I offer (and I work with shod horses too). However if I don’t use the term barefoot – no-one will ever find my blog, because that’s what people type into a search engine. If I don’t use the term barefoot, I don’t help people, and it’s only a word. I have to use the terms that the people I want to help understand. Quite literally, who cares if I use the correct terms, if no-one understands what I’m saying.

      You clearly have a deeper understanding of things which is great 🙂

      We can go ahead and repeat this whole debate later too, when feed balancers are mentioned 😀

  • Can’t edit so adding. I’m not dissing the whole article, you make some good points too it just infuriates me how charlatans and marketers have allowed detox to become a thing when, except in very specific medical circumstances, there’s no need for it unless you want to detox your wallet! Mycotoxins are a real toxin threat and can be bound in the gut, given the right addition to the diet (no names I’m a scientist not a saleswoman :-)), and passed out the other end.

  • Sadly I think you’ve fallen for marketing and pseudoscience. Reads like an advert for L94.
    Trinity’s own page provides very little info about what L94 is, how it’s purported to work, evidence for efficacy, etc.
    Seems L94 is an expensive panacea. May as well reach for the turmeric!
    #marketingnonsense #pseudoscience

    • It makes me sad you feel that way. I rarely recommend things for people to buy on here, often because of the very attitude you’ve shown here. I put that in simply because I know everyone will ask me what I use. It’s not an advert for Trinity at all, and I get absolutely no monetry gain from recommending it.

      What I have got from recommending it is many happy clients with healthy horses.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}