Identifying common causes of ulcers can help us determine if our horses have a high gastric ulcer risk. Off the track thoroughbreds are at a high risk for gastric ulcers. OTTB’s undergo major life changes once they leave the racetrack life. One major factor that puts an OTTB at risk for gastric ulcers is the change of environment. Taking a thoroughbred straight from the track or training barn to your home starts a snowball effect that has a great chance of ending in gastric ulcers.
You have made the decision to retrain a thoroughbred. After many months of searching, you found the perfect prospect. After a short drive, you’ve safely delivered her to her new home, tucked her in her stall with an abundance of hay, and are contemplating how you will start her retraining. You have big plans for this filly, but, unfortunately, these plans may be hindered because of major changes she is about to experience. Your new filly has never been in a field with other horses, she is used to only one to two hours a day of turnout, and high volumes of grain soaked in molasses. Her entire life has just been turned upside down. The stress began as soon as you loaded her onto the trailer, and only continued to rise as you presented her with what you saw as a cozy stall.
The following morning after picking up your filly, you head to the barn to take care of all the horses. She has not eaten any of her new grain from the previous night, and has only picked at her hay. At this point, we know that her stomach is filled with acid. She has not eaten, thus there is nothing in her belly to buffer the hydrochloric acid. Without a buffer, hydrochloric acid begins to eat away at your filly’s stomach lining. You decide to give her some play time, so you turn her out in the field. Although your sentiments were sincere, your filly finds this even more stressful. The field is huge, she sees no other horses outside, and promptly begins galloping up and down the fence line.
This scenario is all too familiar to the new owner of an OTTB. The majority of racehorses have ulcers, (up to 90%!), but these ulcers don’t just disappear after presenting them with a new environment. On the contrary, the ulcers can continue or even worsen. Understanding why OTTB’s are at risk for gastric ulcers can help us take precautions to help protect them.