Horse people are unique in many ways, and among all our various and interesting quirks is our obsession with poop. Typical is a non-horse person coming to a barn, wrinkling their nose, and asking, “What is that smell?”
A horse person cocks his or her head and responds, “What smell?”
We recently hired a young man to help us on the farm. He wanted to learn to muck stalls, but I felt instinctively protective of stall mucking duty because it affords me the time and focus to assess the amount of urine and the quality of the manure.
Of course, horse people don’t confine their poop obsession to horses; poop obsession includes any and all of the animals we live with. It also includes our own personal manure. I never had children, but I can imagine being absolutely consumed with the quality and quantity of my child’s poop.
The poop on poop
A thousand-pound horse produces approximately 50 pounds of manure per day, which is nearly 10 tons per year. For me, manure is part of soil regeneration, and composting it or spreading it is key to soil health. In countries like Holland, the manure is taken away and made into liquid fertilizer, which is then returned and spread on the farm. It’s a brilliant recycling method.
Know what normal is
Each horse is an individual, so knowing what “normal” manure is for your horse is important. Normal manure for most horses is not nearly as smelly as cat or dog poop, because horses are not meat-eaters. I remember walking into a barn in Wellington, Florida, and seeing a horse being led in from the arena by a groom. I was a good 30 feet away when the horse stopped and defecated, and the smell rated a 10 on the toxic, need-a-gas-mask smell meter. The manure was loose, but not to the extent of cow patties.
“Is this manure normal for this horse?” I asked the groom. He nodded.
Turns out, I needed to ask him in Spanish, but I didn’t know he did not speak English. When the owner walked in, I showed her the manure and asked her if this was normal for this horse. She said, “Yes, his manure has been this way since we went on XYZ feed a year ago.”
When we changed the feed, the gas-mask toxicity smell went away. The consistency of the horse’s manure went from sloppy to well-formed: the new normal.
There are several conditions that can cause diarrhea:
- bacterial infection (such as Salmonella or Clostridium difficile)
- hindgut ulcers
- certain antibiotics
- internal parasites (such as roundworms, strongyles, and tapeworms that can also cause weight loss, colic, and poor coat quality. These parasites are developing resistance to multiple wormers, and because there are no new classes of dewormers in development, routine fecal egg counts are now an essential part of management of our horses. In this way, we can specifically target parasites with the available wormers and minimize resistance by worming on the old 6-8 week schedule.)
- management-related causes (such as diet change, new spring grass, too much protein or fat, adding a new supplement, etc.)
Drier manure balls can indicate lack of hydration, which could lead to impaction. To help increase hydration, I have found that the Horse Hydrator helps many horses drink more water because it filters out impurities including heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides, improving the water’s taste and quality. Wet food can also help with hydration.
Sand in the stool
Horses that graze on sandy soil pastures, or in sandy dry lots with hay, can get sand in the intestinal tract, which can lead to impactions and sand colic. An easy way to test for sand in the GI tract is to take a clear rectal exam glove, and add to it some water and fecal balls. Shake it and let it settle. If sand is present, you will see it in the fingers of the glove. Chia seed is an excellent source of insoluble fiber, such as psyllium, that helps move the sand out of the GI tract.
Brown, green, and even reddish-brown fecal balls (from a high beet pulp diet) are the common variations of equine manure color. Too much vegetable oil can cause an oily, grayish color. The real cause for concern is in manure that is red (or with spots of blood), or manure that is black. Black feces is extremely uncommon in horses, but in the case of either red or black stools, call your veterinarian.
For the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, the carriage horses were given pastel-colored dyes in their feed so that their manure would match the wedding’s theme colors. Fortunately, there has been no mention of this practice for subsequent palace weddings…
Healthy gut, healthy manure
To maintain a healthy gut and produce healthy manure, it’s important to remember:
- Add probiotics if your horse is on antibiotic therapy, but never give them at the same time you administer antibiotics. If your horse is on antibiotic therapy for a week, you will want to continue probiotics for a week after antibiotic therapy. Whether your horse is on antibiotic therapy for three days or thirty days, continue probiotics for the same amount of time the horse was getting antibiotics. Make sure the probiotic you use provides a minimum of 100 billion CFUs per one or two servings. The gut cannot be colonized with less than 100 billion CFUs, and in some cases may need up to 400 billion CFUs.
- Horses under stress — shipping, trailering, competing, moving to a new barn, etc. — may need additional probiotic support.
- Use cooling probiotics (active Lactobacillus or Bifidum strains) for horses with loose stools or diarrhea.
- Horses with hindgut ulcers benefit from cooling probiotics supplemented with mannanoligosaccharide (MOS), which helps regulate the pH of the hindgut.
- Use warming probiotics (active yeast strains) for horses with hard or dry manure.
- Use warming probiotics for horses that need to gain weight.
- To keep horses hydrated both at home and while away at clinics or shows, use the Horse Hydrator to help hydrate the GI tract and reduce the chance of impaction.
- Give your horse two weeks to change over to a new diet, thus reducing the chance of GI tract imbalance.
- When giving NSAIDs, pay close attention to the horse’s manure output; a reduced amount of manure could be an indication of problems in the GI tract.
Knowing our horses means knowing our horses’ poop.