I'm sure that this comment won't be very popular, but if people know that there is a good chance of horses suffering from this gastric problem, why are these animals pushed to that extent? They are living things, not machines. What is wrong with moderation? I have watched many people in the Dressage World push their horses until they break down...and dump them. All for the glory of the person at the expense of the animal. Why do we do this?
In other words, is it morally acceptable to engage our equine partners in rigorous athletic competition, such as endurance riding, knowing full well that doing so adds a risk factor for EGUS?
It's a fair question, one I've considered at length throughout my research on Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS). I believe it's worthy of further discussion.
Note that Lori includes sports other than endurance in her question. She is right to do so; in fact, 60% - 90% of performance horse across all disciplines appear to be affected by gastric ulcers. Endurance seems to fall on the lower end of this range; all the same, 67% represents a lot of horses.
The question grows more complex when we consider that not only performance horses are affected. In fact, nearly all domestic horses are at risk, and as little as an hour's training per day can result in ulcer formation. Furthermore, a great many ulcer cases are asymptomatic, apparently causing no distress to the horse.
Moderation is, as Lori suggests, an option...but it still won't solve the problem. Simply stalling a horse, or failing to keep hay in front of him, or administering frequent doses of bute to relieve pain from other medical problems, can result in EGUS (and a host of other ailments). Equines ranging from old schoolies to greenies just starting under saddle are at risk.
To eliminate EGUS, we would have us give up horsekeeping altogether. However, turning our horses loose in the Nevada desert to be rounded up by the BLM and sent to slaughter seems an imperfect solution. (Ahem. Shall we avoid a slaughter debate, please? If you want to discuss that issue, make tracks to the nearest online horse forum and knock yourself out.)
So, should we compete in equine sports? Should only those individuals who can provide 20 acres of quality pasture per horse be allowed to keep them...and ride them only lightly, if at all? Is there an acceptable middle ground? Where do you draw the line, and why?
Pharmaceutical and Alternative Treatment Options for Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome
Equine Ulcer Supplement Options
EGUS, Endurance, and the AERC
Bringing it Home: EGUS Prevention at In the Night Farm
The Good Bad News: Gastric Ulcers in Equines
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