From Endurance to Dressage
Gastro Break Update
I know poop is gross, and talking about it is also gross, but when you own horses, poop is just part of life. A week or so ago, I wrote about giving Izzy a break from the Gastro Elm, a product that I really like. As of this weekend, it seems that I made the right call.
I know this is a funky topic, and what I am going to describe next definitely falls under the category of TMI, but here goes. The first thing I started to check for was the sour smell that had wafted from Izzy's hind end. Every time he lifted his tail, I dashed to his hind end and took a whiff much like a sommelier might do over fine bottle of wine. I even did that little hand wave to direct the bouquet more directly toward my olfactory receptors.
To my surprise, it only took a day or two for the sour smell to disappear. On Friday afternoon, I saw Izzy's tail go up, so I dropped everything and made a mad dash to his newly deposited poop pile. I leaned as close to the top of the pile as I could while being careful not to actually touch it with my nose and inhaled deeply. No one on planet earth has ever given a more satisfied grunt of approval as I did over that steaming pile of poo. It was nearly odorless!
While Izzy's poop still isn't as solid as it should be, it is definitely moving in the right direction. It's also losing it's yellow-green color. Horses who eat alfalfa will have bright green poop - Speedy's is the color of grass. Izzy's poop was chartreuse, a greenish-yellow that is not alfalfa green. Given that he eats grass hay, his poop should be brown out the gate. It isn't. The photo below, while not chartreuse, does show the formless mass that it has been until this past week.
So, in just one week, the odor has disappeared, the color is improving, and the texture is getting firmer by the day. By the end of week two, I should have a better feel for what his stomach and hind gut are doing. If his gut can can find a better equilibrium, I'll know that the GastroElm might best be saved for use when traveling and showing.
If I were throwing dice, I'd be yelling, come on brown poop!
Most readers will know that Izzy struggles with tension. He's so tense and worried that he gives himself a sour tummy. A little over a year ago, he had a minor colic. Before that event, I had tried numerous attempts at soothing his tummy including a month long experiment with Ulcer Guard. I've talked to my vet about it, and we've done all of the things - free choice hay, 24 hour a day turn out, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, magnesium, and on and on. After the minor colic, I finally found a product that soothed his tummy; Gastro Elm.
The GastroElm worked so well that by the end of the first month, Izzy had gained a hundred pounds, the tenderness at his flanks disappeared, and his poop was once again falling in satisfying balls. I bought another bag. At the end of that bag, I started buying two bags at a time. It worked so well that I was all in. I determined that Izzy would get a dose every day for the rest of his life.
For the first month, he was getting at least two doses a day. After six weeks, I put him on the maintenance dose of one tablespoon per day. Sometime in the fall, his poop started to get sloppy again. My job got crazy busy in September which I wasn't at the ranch every day, so he wasn't getting a dose every day. I chalked the sloppy poop up to the missed doses. Through November and December, his poop ranged from cow pies to super soft balls that looked more like mash potatoes than equine road apples.
By January, his poop had started to stink. All poop stinks of course, but horse poop has a "good" stink. The stink Izzy was pooping out was anything but good, It smelled sour and reminded me of the smell of bile and vomit. So gross. I really didn't know what to do about it. He has been gaining weight all winter and his coat looks pretty good. It's not fabulous, but he also started shedding so he's in that molting stage where he looks a bit mangy with patches that have shed and others that haven't.
When CC, Izzy's body worker, came out this past weekend, we got to chatting about the weird, sour smell Izzy was emitting when he pooped or farted. CC told me that he has since put several of his own horses on GastroElm after seeing what it had done for Izzy over the past year. Recently, though, one of his mares hasn't been looking as shiny as she should be, and an old skin irritation has returned, all of which prompted him to wonder if the GastroElm might be too much of a good thing.
His plan is to take his horses off of it for a few weeks and reintroduce it. He suggested giving it for ten days and then taking the horse off of it for twenty days to see what happened. In Izzy's case, he wondered if the ingredients, Slippery Elm, Marshmallow Root, and a few other herbs, might be altering Izzy's gut flora too much. Horses and humans all need the microorganisms, predominantly bacteria, that populate our intestines. Getting rid of all the bacteria can cause diarrhea.
According to GastroElm's website:
It forms a smooth gel that acts almost like an internal bandage when mixed with water. It coats and soothes the stomach and digestive tract to help the animal feel better very quickly.
Slippery elm soothes and lubricates the mucous membranes that line the digestive tract. That makes it an excellent treatment for ulcers, gastritis, colitis and other inflammatory bowel problems. It’s high in fiber, which helps normalize intestinal action.
I know it works because for the first three or four months that Izzy was on it, he looked and felt better. Now, he's still gaining weight, but his poop and the odor that comes with it seem to suggest he might need a break. So, over the weekend I pulled the GastroElm from his diet. My plan is to give him a three to four week break, watching for any changes in the odor or texture of his poop. I'll make changes based on what I see.
I know that GastroElm is a great product, and I will continue using it. In fact, two new bags arrived the other day. It seems that a dose a day for the rest of Izzy's life might have been a bit of overkill. I'll see what happens in a couple of weeks, and then I'll use it more on an as needed basis.
Apparently, too much of a good thing can be bad. Who knew?
Here in central California, we don't usually get much of a winter. Our winter is what most people call autumn. It's typically chilly and damp with about 4 days of rain spread over 4 months. Our annual rainfall averages around 7 inches. My parents got 6 inches in the week I visited - they live in northern California along the coast.
According to our local meteorologist, Miles Muzio, December "was the 3rd wettest on record (going back to 1889) with 2.60" having fallen on 10 different days. That is a full inch and a half above normal." Stop laughing! I know it sounds paltry when compared to the rest of the world, but we're drowning in puddles over here. With rain comes mud, and since my boys - who live in large sandy paddocks, want to stand next to each other all day long, they're slogging through hoof deep mud.
Since there is no way I am picking out that grossness, I've resorted to hosing off legs before I pick out hooves. I think I've only done that a handful of times in the ten years I've been boarding in this neighborhood. Right now, it's my daily routine - hose, pick hooves, repeat for horse number 2. It takes an extra few minutes, but it saves me from getting my hands and breeches all muddy.
Besides the mud, Izzy is also being plagued by ploppy poop. The kind that the Gastro Elm had been helping firm up. Since about October, his poop has varied from formless to a few balls nestled in goop. After struggling with the same issue last year, I put him on Gastro Elm and things cleared up immediately. This fall/winter, the problem is much less severe, but still there. A year ago in December, I also treated Izzy with a week's worth of psyllium.
If you don't live anywhere with sandy soil, you might not have ever used psyllium. Since my horses don't like to eat off the ground, I rarely use it either. Psyllium husks are high in fiber and are believed to help remove sand from the gut. Psyllium can also help heal inflammatory bowel disease or other lesions in the colon. Because of these effects, psyllium is often a useful addition to the diet for horses with chronic diarrhea.
I didn't notice much difference last year after using the psyllium because I also started the Gastro Elm. I know for sure that the Gastro Elm helped because Izzy gained a ton of weight in the first month he was on it. I never thought to attribute any of the improvement to the psyllium. That's the trouble with trying several things at the same time; it's difficult to tell which one did the trick.
When the chiropractor came out last week, I mentioned the ploppy poop. Later that evening, CC called and asked how long it had been since I had given Izzy a course of psyllium. First of all, it was really thoughtful of him to call me to offer some advice. Second, I realized an entire year had passed since the last psyllium dose. The next day I stopped by the feed store.
So far, Izzy has had three of the seven day's worth. While the Gastro Elm certainly works, I have to wonder if the use of the psyllium should be something I include throughout the year. I glanced over at his various poop piles, and I did see plenty that were well formed, but it's hard to tell with all of the mud. I'll have a better idea of how well the psyllium worked by this weekend.
Let's hope for lots of solid poop balls.
I don't remember my first ride. I don't remember the first time I ever saw a horse. They've just always been a part of who I am; there was never a beginning. I didn't get my own horse until I was around 13, but that first decade wasn't wasted. I rode my grandma's horses and the neighbor's. They had four grandkids, and I fell right in the middle age-wise. I don't remember how many horses they had, but I think it was always around 4.
After Sunshine, my first horse, there were a few others until I finally left home at seventeen for a yearlong study abroad. After that year, I went off to college where I earned my degree and teaching credential. I started teaching in the fall of 1994, and the following spring, I bought Sassy, my first Arabian and first endurance horse.
Before joining the endurance world, it never occurred to me to study a horse's excrement. Horses ate and drank which meant they peed and pooped. For all of my horse owning life up to that point, none of those systems had ever malfunctioned. I never had a horse colic although I had seen others colic, and none of mine ever experienced tying-up. Dark urine or even red urine can be an indicator of that particular issue.
Once I started conditioning my first endurance horse, I became aware of a lot of really scary things that can happen to horses, especially endurance horses. Horses being worked at speed for twenty-five, fifty, or even a hundred miles in a single day are absolute machines, but like any hard working machine, they require very specialized care.
As in any sport or hobby there are always those who won't do right by their animals or equipment, but they don't tend to be very successful either. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to the sport by people who cared a great deal for their horses. Finishing a race was also secondary to the horse's health and well-being. That always came first.
My endurance mentors knew a lot about how to keep a horse fit and healthy for not just a race or two, but for years and years. MC, my riding partner of nearly two decades, has tens of thousands of miles on just a handful of horses. The American Endurance Ride Conference's motto is To Finish is to Win. While many riders compete for points - the faster you ride, the more points you earn, many others compete for lifetime achievement awards.
The friends I rode with were far more interested in accumulating lifetime awards which come after accumulating certain mileages. Montoya DSA, my best horse, earned two, 1,000 mile medallions. Over the sixteen years that I competed, I earned chevrons for completing 250, 500, 750, 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 miles at distances of fifty miles or more including five, one-day hundred milers. I was small potatoes. I am not sure if she's still alive or not, but Trilby Pederson, the reining distance champion when I was still competing, had earned over 60,000 miles before retiring from the sport in 2004. MC has more than 21,000 miles as of last season.
But this is about poop, not endurance horses. Besides great adventures in amazing places, endurance riding gave me an education that would be really hard to buy. That sport helped me develop a very critical eye when it comes to horse health. I learned to evaluate my horse's over-all condition with just a quick visual scan. I never miss anything. Within seconds I can see when something is amiss. When I approach either of my horses, I do a thorough visual exam that includes attitude, eyes, respiration, legs, movement, and the surface of their bodies. I also scan their environment looking for things that are out of place or somehow wrong. If a single thing interrupts my visual scan, I dive in for a closer look.
When Speedy abscessed nearly two weeks ago - he's still not quite sound, I spotted it when he took a single step my way. The latest thing I've been checking for each day is the number of ploppy poop piles that Izzy has on any given day. Finally, after two and a half months on GastroElm, his poop piles are gloriously round and solid. Not just some of the piles, but ALL of them.
I think horse folks are the only people on the planet who get so excited about poop. In my circle of friends, especially when I am with my endurance pals, all conversation stops the instant one of our horses looks like he might pee or poop. When the stream starts or the apples hit the dirt, a collective sigh is released when we see pale yellow or well-formed moist balls of green or brown. It's weird, but it's what happens when you know too much. Anything but pale yellow urine or shiny manure means potential trouble.
So you can understand my anxiety these past five months. Beginning in late October, Izzy's ulcer(s) started to create poop piles that ranged in formation from complete cow pies to ropey, stringy glops of that can't be good. On Thanksgiving Day he even looked on the verge of colic. In late December, I started him on UlcerGard which didn't do much. In early January, I gave GastoElm a try, and within two days his poop started to get round again, and the sensitivity to grooming began to fade away.
While the GastroElm helped, he still had days where some of his poop piles weren't very well formed, but those days started to occur less and less often. This weekend, I realized that every single pile of poop looked the same. None of the piles were ploppy puddles. Even the poops during and after our ride required a big grunt to pass, and when they hit the ground, they gave a satisfying thunk instead of the more worrisome splat.
During our most recent vet visit, I presented a package of GastroElm to Dr. Tolley for inspection. He read the ingredients and showed me the same ingredients in his prescription strength powder that he uses for horses that need immediate relief. He gave me the full go ahead to continue using the product as long as I was seeing positive results. I don't tend to love supplements, but I am sold on the efficacy of this one.
Izzy seems to agree. He has gained at least eighty pounds in the past two months, and I have had to drop his girth one hole on each side. He's finishing his hay consistently, and he looks so much more relaxed. At less than $0.45 a day, it's cheap enough to give year round. A few weeks ago, I bought a six month supply, and I don't have any plans to stop using it. Once we start trailering out for shows next month, he'll even get double doses on show and travel days.
Who knew poop could make someone so happy?
More on GastroElm
I can't say that I've ever found a supplement that actually did what it claimed. Most of the time I feed whatever it is in hopes that it's working, but I never actually see results. Izzy gets a daily scoop of a good quality vitamin/mineral supplement in an effort to improve his overall health and maybe prevent his coat from fading. He's healthy, but his coat still fades. He also gets a full cup of milled flaxseed to help his skin, but he still got eaten up by the gnats last year. Would things be worse without those products? I don't know. They're certainly not hurting him, but I can't tell if they're helping either.
In early January I started Izzy on GastroElm, a blend of Slippery Elm Bark, Milk Thistle, Marshmallow Root, and Dandelion Root. According to the manufacturer, it forms a smooth gel when mixed with water that coats and soothes the stomach and digestive tract to help the animal feel better almost immediately. After six weeks of use, I have to say that the product does exactly what it says it does. This is the first time that I've used a supplement where I can actually tell that it is working.
Within one or two days of beginning GastroElm, Izzy's tummy was clearly feeling better. He quit being sensitive to grooming, his poop piles began firming up, and he was a lot less grumpy. For the first three weeks, I syringed the first dose and top dressed his feed with a second dose. For the past three weeks, I've only top dressed his feed. There was one day where he was again sensitive to being groomed on his left flank and his poop got ploppy, so I both syringed and top dressed his feed that day. By the next day, he was back to normal.
Not only did the grooming sensitivity and ploppy poop go away, but his face is even more relaxed. After I give him his daily cookies, his eyelids droop as he licks my hand. For so long his face has had a bit of a worried expression on it. Even that has changed. He just looks more relaxed. His appetite is also more consistent. He has always had a tendency to eat a lot for a few days and then eat less for a few days. His appetite was just never very regular. That too has changed over the past month, and he has definitely put on weight. His girth is now one hole lower. I am looking forward to our spring vet visit so we can weigh him. At his heaviest, he clocked in at 1,350 pounds, The last few times he's been weighed, he was under that at around 1,275.
I am so convinced that the GastroElm has helped that I just ordered a six month supply. It's easy to feed - I add a tablespoon to a little plastic container, fill it with ½ cup of water, cover, and shake vigorously. I fill both boys' buckets with their beet pulp and other stuff, and by then, the gel has formed. It dumps out in one solid clump. Once I mix it in, Izzy gobbles everything up without leaving a trace. It's great to have found something that I can actually see working.
Expensive poop that isn't ploppy, is worth the price of admission.
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 the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: