The equine digestive system

With her work The Equine digestive system‏, Mandy den Elzen continues her extensive research.
In this project she is focusing her examination on the anatomy of a horse, preserving and classifying its organs. As always in her work, den Elzen’s main objective is the material itself, its specific characteristics and how its natural form is perfectly integrated with its function.Her interest in material and process is based on a scientific as well as an artistic approach – a curiosity of shape and texture mixed with a fascination of animal physiology and its intricate processes.

For thousands of years, horses have been closely intertwined with humans – they are associated with loyalty and friendship, and a horse is perceived as a noble animal with a majestic presence and grace. The horse is one of the most painted, sculpted and otherwise depicted animals we have. Because of this, many people are aghast at the idea of horses being slaughtered, be it for human consumption or other reasons. The slaughter of horses has in some parts of the world become an emotional, polarising issue. For den Elzen however, there is no ranking list of animals. A horse is not inherently ‘better’ than a cow or a sheep. In her investigation, she treats the parts of a horse entirely as a new material in its own right. Her representation of the horse becomes in a way more honest and truthful to the animal than depictions of idealized horses.
By separating the organs and classifying them by their physical  properties and how successfully they can be tanned, she strips away the layers of romantic and nostalgic imagery.

The caecum of a horse is a large bag-shaped organ with a single opening. It is part of the colon and functions as a fermentation vat. In the caecum, microbes aid the breaking down and digestion of cellulose and fiber in the forage. The caecum is approximately one meter long and can contain about 30 liters. In the surface of the caecum, oblong muscular fibers are collected into four bands – these bands make four rows of sacculations. When preserved, these sacculations or pouches become large folds. The oblong muscle bands are still visible. The colour of the preserved caecum is a pale light brown.

The stomach (gaster) of a horse is relatively small and has a capacity of about 15 liters. It is divided into two distinct regions: the esophageal region and the glandular region. The esophageal region covers approximately one-third of the entire stomach. The glandular region covers the remaining two-thirds of the stomach. When preserved, there is a clear difference in both texture and colour between the two regions. The esophageal area is covered by squamous mucosa, a mucous membrane of tightly bound cells. Squamous means ‘scaly’, and squamous cells are flat and look like fish scales. When tanned, the leather keeps the scaly or grainy surface. The leather of this region is dark brown. The glandular region is lighter in colour and has a more uniform and smooth surface texture with multiple folds and creases.

text by Lise Sinnbeck