The horse’s digestive system

Mouth –

The horse’s digestive system begins in the mouth, where the teeth bite and grind the feed. The chewing action stimulates the production of saliva.

Oesophagus –

From the oesophagus onwards, the digestive system can be thought of as a long muscular tube with various enlargements along the way.

Stomach –

The oesophagus leads to the stomach which is roughly the size of a rugby ball. The stomach has a fairly rigid structure and doesn’t stretch to accommodate large meals. The stomach has two main regions, the top half is the squamous region and the bottom half is the glandular region. In the top half of the stomach, the horse relies on the presence of fibre to act as a physical barrier to stop the acid coming into contact with the stomach lining.

Small Intestine –

It is called the small intestine, because it has a small diameter not because it is short in length. The nutrients that are absorbed in the small intestine include protein, fats and oils, and some soluble carbohydrates e.g. starch.

Hind Gut –

The caecum and large intestine are often referred to together as the hind gut. The caecum is approximately 3ft long and is a bit like a sack – it slows the rate of passage to give micro-organisms such as bacteria time to break down fibre. There are several by-products of fibre fermentation including gas and heat – this is literally the horse’s own central heating system.

The bacteria that break down the fibre also produce B vitamins such as biotin.

The last part of the digestive system is the rectum. This is about 1ft long in the horse and it literally stores waste material that hasn’t been absorbed, dead cells, bacteria etc. before excreting it out into the environment.

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