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Dear Bob,

I am worried about my 20 year old, part thoroughbred, 17 hands horse who is repeatedly getting colic. We live in Tenerife in the Canary Islands off Morrocco, which has a rocky desert climate. Consequently there is no grazing and it is hot, so the horses live in stables and have 1 hour turnout and 1 hour's exercise a day. I have only had my horse for 10 months prior to which he was a dressage schoolmaster being ridden in a school 4 hours a day. He then "retired" with me and has been very happy and blooming apart from colic. He is kept in livery at the same riding centre he has lived at for the last 8 years and so I do not have personal supervision over feeding, exercise, etc., and turnout space and time is limited. Here is the scenario.

1. Prior to my ownership he had much more exercise but was repeatedly going lame, hence retirement. He was fed then and until recently on oat hay and oat straw, 1.5 kilos of complete feed twice a day, 1 kilo of oats, 2 kilos of sugar beet wet mix, 1 kilo of alfalfa and 0.5 kilo of barley.

2.On the day they introduced the kilo of oats last March, he got mild colic, but it walked off fairly quickly.

3. 4 weeks ago he got acute colic. He had been subject to a lot of wind prior to this, which eased off with exercise.This was a violent and distressing attack but with several hours of the vet., injections and a stomach tube, and a lot of exercise he got over it. The vet then ruled out oat straw and kept the same feeding regime and hay.

4. Three days ago he got a chronic colic. It came on slowly over several days without clear symptoms of his problem at first. It was not so severe but still needed the vet and an injection and exercise for some time to walk it off -- and it was worrying for him and for me. Now the vet has changed his diet to 1 kilo of oats 4 times a day and 4 kilos of hay, ruling out all the other food.

5. I have requested more turnout time for him and this looks possible. I am also going to be mindful of excercising him well after he has digested and of cooling him off properly before food.But I feel rather helpless as I know so little and I cannot supervise his day to see if mistakes are being made or omissions occurring and I have little control over the yard's worming routine.

Added to the above, the language here is Spanish, which I speak with difficulty; my horse's previous owner is the owner of the centre and still feels very attached to him and wants to make all the decisions. So I struggle (a) to identify the right way forward and (b) to assert myself in another language in a kind and well-meaning but very macho society. Hence my appeal to you. I love my horse dearly and do not want to lose him for either (a) lack of knowledge or (b) inability to assert myself and this knowledge to effect .

Is there anything I can and should do or change? And what do you think of the the vet's new feeding regime? I would be very grateful for guidance. I hope to hear from you -- and send you my best wishes and thanks.



As I was reading through your e-mail, I was quickly coming to the same conclusion that your last vet reached in your item #4. I'd stick with his recommendations. In particular, stay away from the beet pulp. If a horse is being worked hard every day the extra sugar may be useful, but it's much too "hot" for a 20-year-old retired horse. Even alfalfa hay may be too potent; a good quality grass hay (not moldy or dusty) is generally better for horses.

Also, in a hot climate, watch the water. A horse needs a lot of water, but it should have enough time to come to room temperature... cold water straight from the tap or well can also trigger colic.

Getting more turn-out time can also help, especially if the horse has foundered. A lot of walking will increase the blood pressure in the sole of the foot, which helps keep the coffin bones in their proper condition. Plus, exercise will generally help keep the digestive system in shape.

If you still have trouble communicating with the stable owner, don't hesitate to suggest that he write directly to me. I read Spanish much better than I speak it, and although most of my Spanish is Latino, I did have a Castillian teacher in high school, so some native Spanish-speakers have said I could pass myself off as a native Spaniard.

Finally, don't get upset with yourself (or anyone else) if worse comes to worst with your horse. Age 20 is getting into the senior citizen category for a horse, and physical problems increase with age -- just as they do with humans. As far as I can tell, Willy was the first of his lineage to live past 25, and his ancestors were among the best cared-for horses in the world!

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