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Consistent Feeding of Lucerne (Including During Spelling) for Reducing Ulcer Risk

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Lucerne hay appears superior to grass hay or pasture for reducing the risk of gastric ulcers.

Intense training combined with high starch diets has long been known to increase the risk of gastric ulcers in horses. For this reason, dietary strategies have been explored as an adjunct to anti-ulcer therapy.

Researchers found a significant reduction in lesion number and severity when horses were fed a lucerne hay/grain diet compared with feeding bromegrass hay (a type of grass hay) alone (Nadeau et al., 2000). The pH of the gastric contents was higher until 5 hours after feeding the lucerne/grain diet suggesting a "buffering effect" of the stomach contents.

Furthermore, ulcer severity scores were significantly lower in yearlings in light training fed lucerne hay and pellets compared to coastal hay and pellets (Lybbert et al., 2007). All horses were placed onto pasture and pellet (no hay) after treatment. Ulcer scores did not improve in horses that had been on grass hay, and worsened in horses that had been on lucerne during pasture turnout.

It has been suggested that the calcium content of lucerne helps to inhibit gastric acid secretion while the high protein content may act as a buffer against acidity. The extent to which lucerne protects against gastric ulceration in horses undergoing more strenuous exercise requires further investigation.

Studies suggest that continuous feeding of lucerne hay via a slow hay feeder/net, or feeding at intervals of 5 – 6 hours may help to reduce the risk and severity of gastric ulcers. Lucerne should continue to be offered during spelling if possible to reduce the severity and prevalence of ulcers of horses prior to training.

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