Laminitis. It`s that time of year that all pony and cob owners dread, when the sweet grass grows quickly, ponies get fat overnight and are at risk of laminitis.

For those who don`t know laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae in the hoof. It is caused for numerous reasons, but the most common cause is a carbohydrate overload in overweight horses. Other causes include sepsis, retained placenta, endotoxemia, steroid injections, a side effect of Cushings disease, and trauma. Laminits ranges from mild inflammation of the laminae to sever founder and rotation of the pedal bone within the hoof capsule.

Symptoms of laminitis are foot tenderness, elevated or bounding digital pulse, hot hooves, inability to walk and put weight on the foot. A horse suffering from laminits will typically adopt the laminitic stance, where the fore feet “point” out so the horse has taken the weight off the forefeet.


Unfortunately, once a horse has laminits they will always be prone to the disease, so owners must be vigilant and take preventative measures.

Laminitis is most commonly found in native ponies, but other horses are susceptible to it, and care should be taken if they become overweight. The best approach to laminitis is prevention. Don`t let your animal get overweight in the first place! 

This is surprisingly hard as ponies can double in weight overnight, particularly with the sudden flush of spring grass. At least once a week you want to critically assess your ponies weight to see if they gain any weight, and if it is tricky for you to see, ask a friend to look or use a weightape as a guide (not that I think a weigh tape is very accurate as it told me last week that Otis was 480kgs, when I know for a fact that he is at least 600kgs! But you can still gauge a change in weight from it). Even if they have gained a little weight, you still want to cut back on their diet and increase their exercise so that they do not gain anymore.

A client of mine has a pony who has suddenly ballooned, so she will need to start bringing him in for a couple of hours a day and putting a grazing muzzle on. She could restrict his grazing by strip grazing the paddock, but she needs to mske sure he doesn`t become moody with hunger as he could become difficult for kids to handle. Perhaps lunging him most days and getting the kids to ride him a bit more will help. Another friend I have uses the Paradise Paddocks management system with her laminitic ponies with great success. Of course, making sure he doesn`t have any treats like carrots or polos will help reduce the sugar in his diet, and giving him only a handful of unmollassed chaff when he has been ridden to reward him.

The problem with limiting turnout is that horses will gorge in the time that they are in the field, so you are not actually reducing their diet, which is why a grazing mussle may be a better approach. You could rotate the paddocks so the thoroughbreds, or thinner horses, eat the rested paddocks down first and the overweight horses go into the paddock that has already been grazed down, and then that paddock can be rested afterwards. If they need hay supplementing then it should be soaked to reduce it`s nutritional content, so it is literally a “filler” food.

When a horse or pony is suspected of having laminitis it is important to act quickly. They should be removed from the food source, usually put onto box rest, where they can be fed soaked hay in small portions but regularly through the day so they digestive system is not upset and they colic. The bed should support the affected feet, so put the bedding right up to the door, and in severe cases sand is a good option. Bute is useful intially to reduce inflammation, but if you are getting the vet or farrier you may want to check with them that the horse can have bute before being checked over, so that the anti-inflammatory does not mask the symptoms. Once the horse`s symptoms have eased, usually in a couple of days, walking exercise can be introduced. This improves circulation without causing more damage to the hoof. Exercise should be increased over a couple of weeks, with veterinary advice of course, and together with the restricted diet, which usually includes turnout in a starvation paddock, should reduce the weight and suubsequent risk of laminitis reoccurring. Vets usually want to run a blood test to ensure that the laminitis has not been caused by Cushings, as the Cushings would need to be treated to help prevent laminitis reoccurring.

Laminitis is most often associated with spring, but those prone to it are at risk all summer, especially after a shower of rain, and in autumn when there is another flush of growth. In winter, frosty grass has very high carbohydrate levels, so owners should be vigilant then too.

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