From Endurance to Dressage
We're on day 16 of UlcerGard, but I can't say definitively if it's working or not. The changes that I've seen in Izzy's attitude could just be a maturation of our relationship, but I don't think so. I think he feels better.
A month or so ago, I did a 4-day treatment of UlcerGard. He's always had a strong friendly streak, but on the Ulcergard, he let his friendly flag fly. The dude was all over me. A few days after the last dose of UlcerGard, we had a ride that could only be described as a hot mess. He forgot that I was even there. I consulted my vet, and he recommended a few weeks of UlcerGard.
In an effort to build on his friendliness, I decided to make a game of giving him his daily dose. I started with two peppermint candies in my hand along with a tube of UlcerGard. I kept it in plain site so that he wouldn't be surprised by it. With no halter, I loudly crinkled the first piece of candy as I unwrapped it, and then I let him nose my hand a moment before letting him nibble it from my fingers.
While he was chewing, I uncapped the UlcerGard and popped it in his mouth. The first time, he wrinkled up his nose and let me know that it wasn't as tasty as the first treat. I quickly crinkled the wrapper of the second piece of candy, and he immediately forgot about the UlcerGard. He now lets me slip it in his mouth without hesitation, and he has gotten friendlier with each empty tube.
One morning, I got to the barn particularly early as I had to be to work by 8:00. I found him curled up, still very sleepy. I walked up to him slowly and squatted alongside him, stroking his neck and face. I slipped him his candy, much to his delight, and followed it up with the UlcerGard and a second piece of candy. He sleepily blinked at me, but stayed right where he was even as I drove off. he was completely unconcerned by the early morning interruption.
The change that I am most noticing is the relaxation all over his body. He's not holding tension in his back like I usually see. He looks droopy most of the time, almost like he's about to melt down into a big brown puddle. He also can't get enough of me. He's constantly licking me or gently chewing on my jacket or belt loops. All he wants to do is play with me.
I am definitely liking this friendlier, more relaxed horse. I hope it is the UlcerGard doing its thing. If so, it will be money well spent.
Izzy's weeklong bootcamp is over, and while I didn't find out definitively whether or not he has ulcers, the experiment with UlcerGard gave me enough information to run it all by my vet. Quite a few of you chimed in with your own experiences and preferred tummy products; for that I thank you.
Here's what I found out:
1) By the third or fourth day on UlcerGard, Izzy was a much happier camper.
2) Izzy is more tense and anxious when the weather is less than perfect.
3) In less than perfect weather, Izzy does better with some lunging before he's ridden.
4) Five days after completing the first tube of UlcerGard, Izzy was a complete jackass.
5) Based on the return of the jackassery, I am changing Izzy's supplements to include something to aid his digestive health.
Rather than continue to guess on a treatment for Izzy, I gave my vet a call and gave him a run down. In a quick summary, I explained how unpredictable Izzy can be, what my feeding program looks like (Izzy rarely runs out of hay), what happened when I experimented with four days of UlcerGard, and how Izzy has been more anxious with the arrival of cooler weather.
Dr. Tolley listened carefully, and when I was finished, he agreed that ulcers were likely. He then launched into a thorough exploration of what we could try. I love that about him; he doesn't just offer one solution. He always gives me a list of possible fixes that range from the least invasive to the most expensive and elaborate. Those choices included lots of different drugs, GastroGard, UlcerGard, and over the counter supplements.
In his experience, ulcers are expensive to treat, I agreed, so finding the least expensive, but still effective, treatment was our goal. We also discussed a variety of studies, one of which showed that gastric ulcers in horses responded well to a lower dose (1 mg/day) of omeprazole as compared to what is prescribed in GastroGard (4 mg/day).
Dr. Tolley cautioned me against using other versions of omeprazole not manufactured by Merial. As one website explained, "UlcerGard and GastroGard are different than the omeprazole medication used to treat human ulcers (Prilosec) because they are not microencapsulated. Prilosec is microencapsulated so that it does not dissolve inside the human stomach. Because the equine and human stomachs are significantly different, the drugs used to treat their ulcers must be formulated differently."
Dr. Tolley laid out a possible plan of attack with room for variations included, but he left it to me to make the final call. He suggested 21 days of UlcerGard combined with an over-the-counter preventative to be given until further notice. He recommended SmartGut Pellets.
After reviewing SmartPak's list of ulcer preventatives, I decided to upgrade to the SmartGI Pellets. While the ingredients are nearly identical to those in the SmartGut Pellets, the SmartGI Pellets offer just a bit more to support the stomach and the hindgut. For a difference of twenty cents a day, I figured it was worth it.
UlcerGard comes in a four-dose tube for around $35, or you can get it in a six-tube pack for $202.50 which contains twenty-four doses of 1 mg/day. I have three doses left from my second tube, so if I combine those with the twenty-four doses, I'll get four weeks of treatment instead of the three that Dr. Tolley proposed.
SmartPak's shipping is not nearly as quick as some of my preferred online retailers, so I can't get to work on rehabilitating Izzy's gut quite yet. The UlcerGard should be here by Wednesday, so today I can get him started on the three dose I already have. The SmartGI won't be here until next week (if I am lucky). That might be for the good anyway as it will give me a chance to evaluate how effective the UlcerGard seems after a week.
So. Does my horse have ulcers? I don't know, but I am treating him as though he does. Wish us luck!
You cannot know how many times I have asked myself this question. Other than just being a ridiculously sensitive snowflake (that's the first time I've ever used that word in this context, but it's true for Izzy), there didn't seem to be a more plausible explanation for his um ... theatrics.
Never mind that Izzy demonstrates NONE of the signs commonly associated with ulcers. According to Doctors Foster and Smith, signs of gastric ulcers in adult horses include:
The big brown horse is either Mr. McDreamy or a complete jackass. In his defense, the jackassery portion of his behavior rarely crops up anymore. Not that Mr. McDreamy is a daily occurrence either, but I am seeing more and more of that horse. So when Izzy started wigging out two weeks ago, I called the chiropractor like normal. Except that didn't solve everything.
I had run out of theories. This horse lacks for absolutely nothing. He gets the best hay we can find, there's copious amounts of it, and he lives on nearly a quarter of an acre. In desperation, I started researching equine ulcers and treatment.
What I found is that there is only one FDA approved medication for the treatment of existing ulcers. Sold under the brand name of GastroGard, the medication is called omeprazole. GastroGard is generally prescribed for 30 days at the cost of around $32.00 a dose/tube. The only way to actually diagnose equine ulcers is through the use of an endoscopic examination. Otherwise you're just guessing.
To prevent equine ulcers, the exact same omeprazole is administered but at one quarter the dose of GastroGard. The product, also manufactured by Merial, is sold under the band name UlcerGard. GastroGard must be prescribed by a veterinarian as it is used for the treatment of ulcers. Since UlcerGard is used to prevent ulcers, it does not need a prescription. The tubes are identical, but the dosage is different. If giving GastoGard, you administer the entire tube. If giving UlcerGard, you give only one-quarter of the tube a day. A tube of UlcerGard generally costs the same as a tube of GastroGard.
Even though I doubted that Izzy had an ulcer, I decided to treat him with UlcerGard to see if it made any kind of a difference. I used it for four consecutive days. I also bought a second tube with the plan to use one dose each week for a month. I looked at it like giving him a Tums. My stomach gets "ulcery" at times but a few Tums over a couple of days generally gets me feeling back to normal.
Did it help? I don't know. At the same time that I administered the four days of UlcerGard, I also worked the snot out of him. After looking at every possible factor, I realized that his jackassery started when we moved the clocks back an hour. I think that the change in my schedule - coming out at what felt like an hour later, combined with less saddle time, simply rocked Izzy's little world.
I am still going to give the once-a-week dose over the next month, and I am considering adding a tube of UlcerGard to his routine when I know a change is coming. As a side note, both of my boys are on Platinum Performance Equine which contains Calcium, Magnesium, and Thiamine, the same ingredients found in many over the counter ulcer supplements. If those ingredients were going to "fix" anything, you would have thought it would have already happened.
Overall, the best "therapy" for this horse comes free of charge: exercise in the form of lunging on a line and free lunging. When he's tired, he remembers who I am, and his brain re-engages.
Who doesn't love "free?"
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read