There are a number of causes of ulceration in the horse. Gastric ulcers can occur when stomach acids burn the unprotected portion of the stomach, whilst microbial disruption, due to incorrect feeding, may allow infection and ulceration both in the stomach wall and along the length of the gastrointestinal tract.
The horse’s stomach constantly secretes hydrochloric acid. For a trickle-eater this is essential; acid helps prepare food for enzymatic digestion – and microbial fermentation – in the intestines.
To protect the stomach lining there are also specialised secretory cells (goblet cells) that produce a mucin that coats it. However, if a horse is fed individual meals or is stressed – and stabling, transport, training and unfamiliar surroundings can all be stress factors - there is disruption in normal gastric functioning.
Excess acid is not bound within the food and mucin secretion can stop. Stomach linings can be exposed and the acid can act directly on it. Also, the rising acidity of the contents can encourage specialist bacteria that will digest the stomach wall and ulceration occurs.
Clinical trials have shown that pectin, at high levels of acidity, forms a gel (in nutritional terms pectins are defined as mucilages) that strengthens and thickens the stomach mucin. The presence of the lecithin – a surfactant – facilitates this process. Plant oils contain appreciable amounts of lecithin and both Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet are particularly rich in pectins.
Additionally, these products have high acid binding capacity which means they can soak up excess stomach acid and help maintain the stomach at the correct level of acidity. Being fibrous in nature, they are also well-chewed by the horse, and this action releases saliva that is rich in buffering agents.
Helping to maintain the correct environment in the stomach, also has implications for the gut. High levels of acidity, releasing into the small intestine may overwhelm the natural buffering capacity of the gut and this will disrupt both normal intestinal physiology and microbial populations. This can result in colic and intestinal ulcers.
The pectins that strengthen stomach mucin have been shown to support the mucilagineous secretions of the gastro intestinal tract and so help support protective gut linings and immunological processes.
Although some feeds – especially those high in starch and sugars – can be a factor in ulcer development, claims that other feeds can obviate or avoid the condition cannot be made. However, within Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet are the components that have been shown to help maintain the normal gustatory/ gastric/ gut processes and so contribute to the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract.