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Owners of horses with Free Faecal Water Syndrome (FFWS) often find that their horse sheds the FFWS problem at the start of the grazing season, prompting them to graze their horses as quickly as possible. While there is limited research on FFWS, extensive experience sheds light on its most common causes, including stress, stomach ulcers, and feeding practices leading to intestinal dysbiosis and acidity.

Stress as a contributor to FFWS

In winter, many horses in open stable groups experience constant stress due to various factors such as overcrowded spaces, frequent changes in group dynamics, limited access to roughage, inadequate bedding, and social hierarchy issues.

However, with the opening of pastures, many of these stressors diminish: there’s more space, horses can avoid each other better, and they have constant access to roughage and preferred resting areas.

Owners of horses prone to FFWS should plan ahead during the summer months regarding winter accommodation. Prolonged stress due to winter housing conditions can lead to severe health issues over time, extending beyond mere cosmetic faecal water problems.

Stomach Ulcers as a Factor

Stomach ulcers are more prevalent than previously believed, affecting up to 50% of leisure horses.

These ulcers cause pain, which in turn induces stress. Incorrect feed management, such as extended breaks from roughage (>4h), feeding through automatic hay feeders with limited access, or inadequate feeding spots in stables, can lead to gastric ulcers. Additionally, stressors like bullying within the group or weaning foals prematurely can trigger or exacerbate ulcers.

For instance, many foals experience their first stress-induced gastric ulcers due to abrupt weaning, which may lie dormant for years before becoming active again under stressful conditions, potentially causing FFWS among other issues.

FFWS Caused by Haylage

Feeding haylage over the winter can contribute to FFWS, as it introduces lactic acid bacteria into the large intestine, leading to dysbiosis and acidic pH levels. As temperatures rise, many horse farms discontinue haylage feeding due to its rapid spoilage rate.

Haylage for horses
Haylage changes pH levels in the intestine, leading to FFWS. © Adobe Stock / Westwind

Transitioning to hay and pasture helps stabilize the intestinal environment, alleviating FFWS symptoms. However, this relief is often temporary, as FFWS tends to recur in subsequent winters. Despite the easing of symptoms with the onset of grazing season, horse owners should proactively identify and address factors contributing to FFWS to prevent its recurrence in future winters.

More on this topic: Free Faecal Water Syndrome (FFWS) – an Ongoing Problem..