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10: The Equine Microbiome
Episode 1012th December 2023 • Healing Horses with Elisha • Elisha Edwards
00:00:00 00:29:02

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Today, I explore the equine microbiome. 

The microbiome is a crucial aspect of overall equine health. It is an ecosystem in the gut that supports the immune system of horses. It helps them stay healthy by keeping their energy levels up and ensuring they get the correct nutrition.

The Equine Digestive System  

The equine digestive system encompasses the mouth, teeth, stomach, and small intestine, with the hindgut constituting 65% of the digestive tract, including the large intestine and cecum. Maintaining a healthy hindgut is crucial for proper digestion, as issues can lead to diarrhea or a leaky gut.

Microbial Population and Fermentation in the Hindgut 

The hindgut houses 10 to 15 trillion bacterial cells, responsible for fermenting complex carbohydrates and providing around 75% of the horse's energy. That process produces volatile fatty acids, B vitamins, amino acids, and neurotransmitters. Imbalances in the microbiome can result in energy level issues and deficiencies, affecting a horse's ability to ferment fiber adequately.

Microbiome Beyond the Hindgut 

Every organ in a horse's body, including the skin and respiratory tract, hosts localized populations of microbes. Those microbes are crucial for supporting immunity and maintaining the communication between different body parts.

Unique Microbial Fingerprint  

Each horse has a unique microbial fingerprint influenced by their genetics, the environment, and exposure to stress or health events. The diversity of microbial populations significantly impacts a horse's overall health, affecting their immunity, metabolism, digestion, and detoxification.

Microbial Contributions to Health 

Microbes in the horse's body produce B vitamins, butyrate, and glutathione. Those substances contribute to gut health, protect against disease, and facilitate detoxification. Microbes also create neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, influencing brain health and hormone regulation.

Environmental Factors and pH Balance 

Maintaining a pH between 6.4 and 6.7 in the hindgut is crucial for microbial health. Over-fermentation of starches and sugars can increase acidity, damaging the microbiome and causing conditions like acidosis and leaky gut. Excess acidity also contributes to inflammation and the release of toxins.

Toxins, Leaky Gut, and Auto-Intoxication 

When toxins from an imbalanced hind gut enter the general circulation, issues arise, progressing from leaky gut to auto-intoxication, where the entire body becomes toxic. Maintaining a healthy microbiome is crucial for preventing those conditions.

Factors Damaging the Microbiome 

Several factors may contribute to damaging the microbiome, lowering pH, and fostering unhealthy bacteria. Feed and forage are the primary fuel for microbial populations. Long-term stress, dewormers, medications, and age can impact hindgut health, and overmedication, especially with dewormers and antibiotics, can disrupt the microbial balance. 

Age and Microbiome Damage 

Age is critical, as prolonged exposure to stress, over-fermentation of starches and sugars, and various medications contribute to hindgut damage over time. Supporting a healthy microbiome becomes increasingly crucial as horses age.

Choosing the Right Feed for Your Horse 

Always be mindful of what you feed your horse. Too much sugar and carbohydrates, especially from corn in commercial feeds, can upset the balance of microbes in the hindgut by affecting its acidity. Keeping an eye on the sugar content in grains and grass is crucial, as it can feed bacteria that might be harmful. Too much protein, dietary oils, feed byproducts, artificial additives, dairy byproducts, and molasses can also lead to hindgut problems. Paying close attention to the ingredients in your horse's feed will help to avoid unnecessary issues and keep your horse healthy.

Conclusion and Next Steps 

Simplifying and cleaning up your horse's nutrition, avoiding unnecessary additives, and focusing on hindgut support will contribute to its overall digestive health. Whether for prevention or addressing existing health challenges, prioritizing a healthy gut and microbiome is the key to equine well-being.

Links and resources:

Connect with Elisha Edwards on her website 

Free Webinar Masterclass: Four Steps to Solving Equine

Metabolic Syndrome Naturally





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