Colic Risk Factors

Did you know that colic is one of the leading causes of death in horses? And horses that have colicked in the past are four times more likely to colic again! So we want to give you some pointers on exercise, diet, and management that will help reduce your horse’s risk for colic.



Starting with exercise.. the more time that your horse spends in a stall, the higher chance they have of colicking. Physical movement improves gut movement! Increase your horse’s amount of turnout time to lower the risk. If you plan on making changes to your horse’s workload, do so gradually. This applies to increases and decreases in duration and intensity of exercise. A sudden, significant change in activity could cause a colic episode.

There are several colic risk factors that are diet related. A sudden change in batch or type of hay can increase the risk by almost 10 times! Try blending your old hay with the new over a week. Bermuda grass hay is also linked to increased likelihood of ileocecal impaction colic. Bermuda hay is commonly fed in the Southwest (this is my primary hay for my horses) and it appears to be more of a problem when it is too mature, with horses that have a history of colic, and those switched quickly and fed it free choice. If your horse has been on it for a few weeks with no issues and has no history of colic then it should be fine. so avoid it if possible. Square bales, or even chopped hay or hay cubes, are preferred over round bales unless your horse has been raised on round bales or it is a supplement to green pasture. Keep your horse’s grain ration under 5 lbs a day, spread over multiple meals. (Multiple meals are great for hay also so that it is more like natural grazing.) Make grain type or amount changes gradually, over the course of a week.


Water consumption is a large factor in impaction colic. Monitoring your horse’s water consumption can prove very beneficial in preventing issues. Horses in moderate temperatures and humidity with no work load need 5-10 gallons a day. This increases greatly with heat, humidity and exercise.


Last but not least, management plays a big part in colic risk factors. Provide your horse with as much grazing time as possible. Limit sand intake by feeding over a mat versus off sandy ground. Also there is some information that horses who eat sand do so purposefully due to ulcers, boredom, or mineral deficiency. Do frequent sand checks to monitor the risk of sand colic. Be sure your horse has access to fresh, clean, cool water at all times. If you must use NSAIDs, use the lowest dose possible and give no longer than a few days unless under direct supervision of a veterinarian due to ulcer risk. Keep your pasture clean with appropriate manure management and follow a deworming protocol that best fits your needs.