- Horse Digestive System -
 The Process of Digestion

The horse only needs a small stomach because food passes quickly to the small intestine for digestion. Undigested fiber passes to the cecum and the large colon to be broken down Fluid is absorbed into the blood and the dry remains are expelled as manure. Horses eat a lot of fiver. This has to be broken down by bacteria that live in the large colon. There are several types of bacteria, each adapted for a certain type of fiber. If the horse's food changes, the bacteria change as well. The long digestive tract has two 180 degree bends where food can easily get stuck and cause colic.

Horses are herbivores. They are designed to eat plants - this should make up the horse's whole diet in one form or another. They have a one-compartment stomach, much like a human's. Their digestive system, thankfully, is fairly simple and straightforward. It is very much like a human's, with only several minor differences. From the mouth, the horse's digestive system is composed of:

  • mouth & teeth & tongue
  • esophagus
  • stomach
  • small intestine
  • cecum
  • large colon
  • small colon
  • rectum
  • anus

The biggest difference between horses and you is the importance of the cecum to the horse. Digestion of food takes place in specific areas of the tract. If something happens where it shouldn't, problems and upset stomach occur. Did you know that a horse can't  physically throw up?

Digestive AnatomnyEven if your horse is big, his digestive system is still pretty delicate.  Colic, the horse's version of an upset stomach, is a very serious concern to most horse owners. It takes very little to throw the horse's digestive system off. Something as simple as missing a few meals or eating to much in any one period can cause colic. This is made even more complicated by the fact that horses are unable to throw up (vomit), thanks to the fact that there are extra strong muscles surround the opening between the esophagus and stomach. The best way to prevent colic is to understand how your horse's digestive system works.

Nearly all the digestion of simple carbs, protein, and fat takes place in the small intestine, although it begins in the stomach. Starches and sugars and protein begin digestion in the stomach by being slightly broken down, and then the majority of the digestion of these nutrients occurs in the small intestine. Fats are slightly decomposed by enzymes in the stomach, but the majority of the fat digestion occurs in the early part of the small intestine. On the other hand, carbs like cellulose and lignin are digested mostly in the cecum and partly in the colon. There is also a small amount of protein that is digested in the large intestine. The cecum and colon is where the microbes are that digest the fiber in your horse's diet. This is the area where substances like hay, pasture, grass, beet pulp, and grain are finished digesting.