Vets are hoping that the results of a recently publicised study will encourage owners to consider changing stable management to reduce cases of colic in horses.

The study, the results of which were published in the Equine Veterinary Journal last month, was carried out by Dr Sarah Freeman using 7 military horses at the Defence Animal Centre in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.

The horses were monitored 24hr a day in the field for between 2 and 4 days. They were then observed for 14 days following a change to a stabling regime with light exercise.

“The study showed that although they drank more when they were stabled, this did not compensate for the change in diet and environment,” said Dr Freeman. “There was both slowing down of gut motility and drying out of gut contents.

“The greatest effect was in the first 5 days, which highlights a particular risk period for colic.”

Dr Freeman hopes that the study will help vets and owners.

“We definitely see an increase in horses with colic who are suddenly stabled,” said Malcolm Morley, senior partner at Stable Close Equine practice in Hampshire.

He added that horses who experience a move from pasture to stable should be given a diet that does not “bung them up” [ad-lib forage], and be kept moving.

“When horses are stuck in the box, they get bored, eat their bed and the straw can get impacted,” he said.

We see far fewer cases of colic in horses out at pasture, but if a horse out 24hr a day gets colic, it is more of a worry.”

Dr Freeman is also working on a nationwide colic survey. Early results show of the total 120 impaction cases recorded, 59% had had a recent change in management, and 43% of reported cases were not ridden. The results will be published this July.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (10 April 2014)