Last few days our blog has mostly been about "Colic". Some of you non-horsey types may not understand the disease, so here is a quick primer on it.
Colic is a general term for "pain in the gut" (not pain in the butt). When you have a "colicky" baby it's usually not life threatening to the infant, at least not since the "Don't Shake the Baby" campaign got started. In people, it's mostly just pain from gas or cramping.
Colic in horse's is different. It can be, and often is, fatal. The severity of colic in horses is due to the design of the horses digestive system, and how they are being fed and housed. A wild horse has access to feed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but has to walk 10 to 20 miles a day to get it. That goes a long way toward keeping things moving in their gut. Most domestic horses have a couple bigger meals each day, and stand in a pen an awful lot of the time. They don't much mind, because it is easier to find their forage (it shows up magically after they holler for a few minutes), but their systems need more work to work.
Colic is most dangerous when it is a blockage of some sort in the horses digestive system, and it's a big system.
*5 feet of esophagus. (swallow tube)
*Stomach. (4 gallon capacity)
*70 feet of small intestine (where most nutrients are absorbed)
Then you get to the large intestine.
*4 feet of the "cecum", an interesting organ that has no real counterpart in humans. It's an 8 gallon bladder that holds a grass soup so bacteria can break down the soup into components that the intestines can absorb. A number of colic's are caused here by changing the feed the horse eats too quickly, and not having the right bacteria in the gut for fermentation of the new food. (I suspect the same problem is seen in humans with gluten intolerance. If you go for a couple weeks eating no gluten, the bugs in your gut that break it down will starve. Then when you start again, AARRRG! Colic!)
Question---I wonder, if you gave a horse brewers yeast, would they make beer in the cecum?
*12 feet of large colon (absorb carbohydrates, which were broken down from cellulose in the cecum.)
*12 feet of small colon (absorbs the water from the soup and turns the poop into balls)
*1 foot of rectum (Holding chamber)
Tooth to tail you end up with over 100 feet of tubing that holds nearly 50 gallons of primordial soup, in an animal that can't even burp. If any thing goes wrong (kinks, blockages, etc) the animal will be in great distress, and may die.
Years ago, I talked with a vet about the types of problems he most often saw in horses. He told me "Four legs and a gut, that's all horses are. If you can work on those, you have over 90% of the problems covered."
Makes my little bit of heartburn seem kind of... insignificant.