Colic is one of the most feared conditions within the equine community. As many horse owners know, colic is an unpredictable, painful, and sometimes fatal condition.
Colic refers generally to abdominal pain in horses that can lead to potentially serious health complications. Cases of colic may present as mild and be resolved in less than 24 hours with or without veterinary treatment. Colic can also be more severe, requiring emergency surgery. 
Colic is usually triggered by a combination of factors, including diet, workload, and stress exposure. It can also be caused by gas buildup, feed impaction, grain overload, sand ingestion or parasite infection. 
Horses are more susceptible to digestive upset than other domestic animals due to their unique digestive system. Gut disorders, such as colic, diarrhea, or enterotoxemia, represent approximately 50% of medical problems in adult horses. 
It’s important to act quickly and call your veterinarian if your horse shows signs of colic, such as pawing, rolling, laying down, loss of appetite or other signs of discomfort.
Colic is something all horse owners strive to prevent. In this article, we will discuss strategies you can employ to reduce the risk of colic and other digestive problems in your horse.
What is Equine Colic?
Colic refers broadly to many forms of abdominal pain or gut upset in horses.
Colic does not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, breed, environment, or workload. It can affect any horse at any time. 
Sometimes, a horse owner knows exactly why their horse colicked. However, more often than not, colic is idiopathic, meaning that a specific cause cannot be identified.
As a veterinary condition, cases of colic are described as gastrointestinal or non-gastrointestinal in nature.
Non-gastrointestinal colic cases describe abdominal discomfort due to disorders of the reproductive, nervous, respiratory or musculoskeletal systems.
Gastrointestinal colic cases, which are the more common of the two, describe abdominal upset for reasons linked to digestive imbalances, gut distension, and gut obstructions. 
You can learn more about the Different Types and Causes of Colic in this article.
14 Best Ways to Prevent Colic in Horses
Not all forms of equine colic can be prevented. However, horse owners can implement measures to reduce the risk of developing this condition and support good gut health.
The strategies for preventing colic revolve around your horse’s feeding regimen, workload, and management. Here is our list of the top 14 ways to reduce your horse’s risk of colic and other digestive problems.
1) Access to Fresh Water
Providing clean fresh water to your horse at all times is critical to reducing the risk of many gastrointestinal problems, such as colic.
Proper hydration supports digestive function by aiding in gut motility (the transit of food through the digestive tract). If your horse does not drink enough fluid, they are at greater risk of impaction colic.
Water also dilutes stomach acid and is required to produce saliva, which is important for the process of digestion.
Horses should consume roughly two gallons of water per 100 kg of body weight under normal circumstances. A 500 kg (1100 lbs) horse is expected to drink 10 gallons of water per day.
- Regularly clean out your water buckets or automatic watering systems
- Always change the water in your buckets before refilling
- Ensure access to water in the paddocks at all times
- Don’t let your horse’s water get too hot in the summer
- Don’t let your horse’s water get too cold in the winter
- During training and hot weather, feed electrolytes to encourage greater water consumption
- Some horses will drink more readily if you flavour their water
As part of your daily management tasks, ensure that good quality water is provided to your horse at all times. This will have a significant impact on reducing the risk of colic and other gastrointestinal problems. 
2) Adequate Salt Intake
Salt is one of the best anti-colic supplements you can give your horse. Salt is a source of sodium, an important electrolyte in the horse’s diet.
Most equine diets are deficient in sodium. This mineral is supplied by forages and complete feeds but is often not provided in sufficient amounts to meet dietary needs.
Horses should consume at least 2-4 tablespoons (1-2 ounces) of salt per day and should have access to free choice loose salt at all times.
Providing your horse with a salt block is not enough to ensure adequate salt intake. Loose salt is more readily consumed and better able to support hydration.
During hot weather or when in heavy work, you may need to feed more salt to replace what is lost in sweat and to maintain electrolyte balance. 
3) Increase Turnout
Research shows that horses kept in a stall for more than 12 hours per day have decreased gut motility. This means that food does not move through their gastrointestinal tract well.
To prevent this, give your horse as much turnout as possible.
Encouraging your horse to express natural species-appropriate behaviors such as foraging, grazing, and socializing within a herd will keep them moving and reduce boredom.
4) Use Elevated Feeders
Horses are exposed to large amounts of sand throughout their lifetime, especially if they live in sandy regions. But even horses who don’t reside in sandy geographical areas can encounter sand in their arena, on trails, in their paddocks or in their stalls.
Horses grazing in sandy environments are at risk of sand accumulation in the digestive system. This can result in sand colic which is marked by irritation and obstruction of the gut.
Increasing the fibre content of your horse’s diet may also alleviate sand colic and promote the excretion of sand from the digestive tract.
A University of Florida study recommends feeding hay at a rate of 2.5% of body weight to maximize sand removal. This equates to 12.5 kg for a 500 kg horse (or 28 lbs for a 1100 lbs horse).
5) Make Feeding Changes Gradually
If you are changing to a different batch of hay, make the transition gradually over two to three weeks.
Ideally, obtain a hay analysis for any new hay being fed so you understand how it compares to your original source of hay.
A hay analysis can also help you ensure your horse’s dietary requirements are being met. You can submit your horse’s hay analysis online and our equine nutritionists will help you balance your horse’s diet.
6) Feed Quality
The best way to prevent gut problems for your horse is to feed a forage-rich diet that is balanced and maintained on a set schedule.
Horses are hindgut fermenters, meaning that dietary fibre is fermented in the hindgut to extract energy and nutrients. Feeding adequate fibre supports the equine microbiome which is responsible for fibre fermentation.
Avoid high-grain diets which can contribute to dysbiosis and excessive acidity in the hindgut. This condition, known as hindgut acidosis, is a precursor to hindgut ulcers and a number of other digestive issues.
Mold is a source of toxins. If ingested in large quantities, these toxins can disturb the delicate balance of microorganisms in the gut, resulting in digestive upset. 
Check both grain and hay to ensure it is fresh prior to feeding, especially if the feedstuff has been exposed to moisture. 
Feed should be stored in a cool, dark environment with no exposure to moisture. If you are unsure if your horse’s feed has gone moldy, it is better to avoid feeding it and spend the money to purchase new feed rather than risk a digestive issue that could lead to colic. 
7) Avoid Pelleted Feeds
Feeding your horse grain concentrates such as a complete feed or sweet feed can increase colic risk.
While small amounts of pelleted feeds are unlikely to cause a problem, feeding these in higher quantities can dramatically raise their risk.
Research shows that every pound of whole grain or corn feed added to a horse’s diet increases colic risk by 70%. 
In comparison to horses fed hay exclusively, horses consuming pelleted feeds have a 6 to 9.5 times greater risk of colic.
This is another reason to opt for a forage-first feeding program and to minimize the use of grain-based feeds.
8) Reduce Excess Stress
Minimizing stress and anxiety is important to prevent colic and digestive discomfort in your horse. While it is hard to eliminate every stressor that your horse is exposed to, aim to reduce stress to support overall gut health and well-being.
Common stressors that may result in colic include: 
- Abrupt changes to the environment
- Abrupt changes to your horse’s typical schedule
- New herd placement or loss of companion
- Low position in the social hierarchy and competition for feed and water