Achieving Optimal GI Health in Performance Horses

The nature of being a competitive performance horse often comes with stressors that we, as humans, may not realize--stalling, hauling, training, climate change, environment change, antibiotic use, and NSAIDs such as Bute and Banamine, are just a handful of things that put stress on a horse physically, mentally and emotionally. Some horses (naturally) handle these stressors better, while others struggle to maintain peak performance condition. 

If you haven't yet heard of Leaky Gut Syndrome in horses, you likely will, as it's a digestive condition popping up on the radar of more and more horse owners. This condition affects more horses than we realize, and much effort is being put in from researchers to help provide answers. So...


Simply put, leaky gut is a failure of the intestinal barrier. At a microscopic level, the intestinal lining is really just a series of cells that are charged with the task of allowing the good stuff in—nutrients—and keeping the bad stuff out—toxins and pathogens. The cells are held together by unique structures called tight junctions. When they are operating properly, the cells are held tightly together and form a barrier that supports proper nutritional function and immune health. When this barrier is compromised and the tight junctions fail, the cells start to separate. The gaps between the cells allow toxins, pathogens and undigested nutrients into the body—which triggers an intensified response from the immune system—creating systemic inflammation and digestive issues for the horse. 

An in-depth explanation and understanding of Leaky Gut Syndrome can be found in this webinar by Dr. Jyme Nichols.


As of now, there is no definitive diagnosis for leaky gut syndrome in horses. However, researchers are actively working toward a metric to help veterinarians diagnose the condition. In the meantime, horse owners should be on the lookout for typical symptoms such as horses that become irritable or cinchy, unexplained loss of body condition, loss of appetite, sudden unwillingness, unusual stiffness or unresponsiveness to leg cues, and allergy panels with multiple “low positive” allergens. The big key is looking for these abnormal changes and catching them early, especially if the horse is under a lot of stress.


In one word, stress is the biggest cause of leaky gut. Horses deal with daily stressors that we don’t even think about. Being stalled, local hauling or long trips, leaving a buddy horse, changing owners, new loads of hay, changes in grain, intense training schedules, the use of antibiotics, de-wormers, NSAIDs such as Bute and Banamine, and hot or humid weather. All of these things are stressful to a horse, and some horses are simply better at handling them. In addition, there are nutritional stressors such as high-starch diets, mycotoxins, chronic low-level ionophore contamination, and abrupt changes in feed formulas that can add to the situation.


First and foremost, do everything in your power to limit the stress in your horse’s life. You can’t eliminate it completely, but you can help mitigate some of it. Make sure they have shade, good air flow and fresh water when it’s hot. Provide shelter and plenty of good quality hay when it’s cold. When you travel, try to maintain a consistent routine with feeding and watering, and let horses out to walk around often when you are taking long trips.

From a preventative nutrition standpoint, Bluebonnet Feeds just launched Equilene® Pro Care®, a beet pulp-based feed designed with leaky gut syndrome in mind. It contains research-proven ingredients that are showing extreme promise in supporting the intestinal barrier and immune function. These specific technologies include plasma, butyric acid, and yeast culture metabolites. If you have a horse that is exhibiting signs of leaky gut syndrome, products such as GI Calm® are showing great promise in clinical trials. GI Calm® contains butyric acid and biologically active components that target the intestinal lining and help horses make a rapid turnaround.


The technologies in Equilene® Pro Care® were selected for their unique abilities to strengthen the intestinal lining and support a normal healthy response to inflammation within the body.equilene-pro-care-3d.png

  • Beet Pulp: Beet pulp, a base ingredient in this feed, is a fermentable fiber source which supports calorie needs without having to add starchy grains. In addition, beet pulp provides prebiotic activity and naturally stimulates the production of butyric acid by the microbiome. Butyric acid supports health and growth of intestinal cells which in turn supports immunity.
  • Strong Intestinal Lining = A Healthy Horse: Leaky Gut Syndrome, EPM, allergies, and systemic inflammation are examples of situations that quickly progress in horses with compromised intestinal linings. Tight junctions are responsible for holding together the cells which line the intestinal tract. When the tight junctions are functioning properly and the cells themselves are healthy, the immune system is strong and the horse can naturally fend off toxins, protozoa, and allergens that might otherwise wreck havoc. 
  • Joint Health and Mobility: Equilene Pro Care contains unique, research-proven ingredients which have been shown to support normal health of joints and assist the body in clearing low-grade inflammation that occurs with normal daily training and exercise.
  • Inflamm-aging: Inflamm-aging is a term that describes chronic low-grade inflammation that develops with advanced age. Inflammation accelerates the process of aging and can worsen many age-related diseases. Unique yeast culture metabolites are included at levels which are research-proven to support the body’s natural ability to clear inflammation and support lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

If you suspect your horse may be in need of a specialized nutrition program or if you just want a nutrition consultant to review your horse’s current diet, Bluebonnet Feeds offers free virtual nutrition consults.