Professor Debra Archer debunks two common colic myths

Myth 1: letting a horse with colic roll will cause the gut to twist

There is no evidence that rolling has anything to do with the gut becoming twisted.

Given that most horses will roll when turned out or when put on to fresh bedding, if this were the case then a twisted gut would be something that might occur every day. Fortunately, it does not. Horses with colic get down to roll because they have gut-related pain.

If you have ever suffered from severe indigestion or abdominal problems, you can understand why a horse will do anything to try to make the pain go away. The cause of the pain can occasionally be because the gut has actually twisted or because it has become filled with gas, causing uncomfortable bloating.

If a horse is showing signs of colic and wants to roll repeatedly, contact a vet immediately. Put the horse into a well-bedded stable while you wait for the vet to arrive.

Take out anything the horse might injure himself on, such as buckets, and leave him quietly. Do not try to walk the horse around the yard. If he goes down, he will potentially cause more injuries to himself and any humans who might accidentally be crushed or kicked.

Myth 2: all horses with colic should be exercised

If a horse starts to show mild signs of colic, walking him around for 10-20min can sometimes help. Exercise is known to promote gut movement — in the same way that we might go out for a walk after a large Sunday lunch to relieve indigestion.

Some forms of colic are due to the blood supply to parts of the gut being cut off. This can happen because the gut has either become trapped somewhere within the abdomen, is being constricted by something that has wrapped around it or is twisting around on itself.

No amount of exercise is going to sort these problems out, but unfortunately some owners persist in exercising horses with these forms of colic. This just makes an increasingly sick horse more exhausted, which will not help if he later needs surgery. If a horse is still showing signs of colic after 10-20min of light walking exercise, contact a vet immediately.