Imprint Horseshoes

The blog is rather neglected (still) at the moment. I’m finding either subjects I think of writing about have already been blogged previously. Or my brain is so busy thinking of hundreds of different things that have happened, or will happen, or are happening that I can’t clear the brain space to blog, or just need to vegetate in front of the TV. Writing a blog is cathartic, and I definitely found it helpful as I negotiated the ups and downs of my twenties. Perhaps I’m more settled, in a better brain space, with less frustrated opinions, and therefore don’t need to write?

But I have a short list of topics which need to be shared, so hopefully my blogs will become more frequent.

Let’s start with a new type of shoe that I came across a couple of months ago. A pony I ride was at fat camp. He was marginally lame and had the first signs of laminitis, so was on a heavily restricted diet, a track system and being long reined for hours around the arena. However, until he was sound and more comfortable, and some weight had shifted we couldn’t increase the workload by riding. It was a tedious process, walking laps of the arena!

Anyway, his farrier suggested a different type of shoe, which was good for laminitics, so duly came and put them on his front feet. I arrived an hour or so later to long rein and was intrigued by the shoes. When I picked his feet up in the field, I’ll be honest, they looked like some weird form of trainer! They were plastic, with horizontal grips like our shoes, and glued onto his hooves.

This farrier is a friend of mine, so I text him to ask more about the shoe. This is when you know you have a great professional on your horse’s side, as he rang me back almost immediately to give a thorough explanation about the type of shoe he’d used. He didn’t take it as a critique of his work, he knew I was trying to educate myself, and he was knowledgeable about the product and method, and shared his knowledge. So many professionals (saddlers, physios etc) get defensive when you question what they’re doing. They don’t seem to realise that questioning is a way of expanding your own knowledge and understanding!

Anyway, back to these Imprint shoes. I noticed an immediate difference in the pony – he looked sound on the hard, and much more comfortable. So with immediate effect we started adding in trots on the long reins before progressing to longer trots on the lunge and then after a week, riding him again.

So what are the Imprint shoes? Firstly. They’re made of plastic, and are fitted by putting them into warm water to make them malleable, then you can shape them to fit the hoof exactly, before gluing them into place. The plastic shoe is lighter, so can make a horse more comfortable. Think how you feel wearing heavy clumpy boots as opposed to Crocs. It can improve mild lameness. It doesn’t solve a problem, but it allows the horse to move more easily which can help improve the symptoms. And with laminitis a big part of recovery is making the horse sufficiently comfortable that they can exercise to increase their weight loss, to reduce the fat, which triggers the inflammation of the sensitive laminae.

The shoes are the same basic design as heart bar shoes, so support the pedal bone, which is vital in laminitic horses. Being of a softer material they will absorb more of the concussive forces that steel shoes, again helping to improve soundness in a horse with sensitive feet. Plastic is also more flexible, which allows the horse’s foot to expand and contract more naturally, like the barefoot foot does.

The downside of these shoes is that they’re very expensive! They are softer that steel shoes so don’t have the longevity factor. Fine for light work or rehab, but the grips would wear smooth if the horse did a lot of hacking or harder work. My farrier said that some people use Imprint shoes all the time, but I guess they’d be on a shorter shoeing cycle to compensate for the shoe wearing quicker.

One successful rehab later with the Imprint shoes on for eight weeks and he’s now in traditional heart bar shoes with no signs of laminitis, and a much slimmer physique. We’re now increasing canter work to improve his cardiovascular fitness.

A Moment on the Lips, A Lifetime on the Hips

Grass growth in the UK has gone insane in the last month and there seems to be an unprecedented number of horses coming down with laminitis or being very much at risk of it.

The best tactic for weight management is to start early. But that’s easier said than done! Unfortunately I think until an owner has experienced Code Red; drastic weight loss or the dreaded laminitis itself, it’s all too easy to be complacent. Especially with our tendency to anthropomorphasise our horses. Plus, it only takes an unfortunate coincidence of a couple of equine rest days and warm, wet weather for grass to grow rapidly and obesity to occur.

About two months ago, a companion pony of one of my clients had his annual check up by the Blue Cross. They declared him to be obese and advised that he lost a significant amount of weight very quickly.

It was a case of being cruel to be kind. The Blue Cross representative recommended shutting the pony in the corral for half the day and using a track system. Initially, my clients were told to shut him in during the day, and out overnight, but after considering their current routine it was decided that it was easiest to have the pony in the corral overnight. Especially as their evening bucket feed could be used to tempt him into his prison.

It goes against what we all know about feeding horses little and often, but drastic steps were needed. Besides, there are a few tufts of grass or weeds for him to pick at overnight. I set up the track system, and I’m pleased with the routine that’s now in place.

Every couple of days, once fat pony is safely locked away in the evening, the Shire cross who, by no means thin, but happy to eat the new grass, gets given a foot or two more of long grass on the track. He eats that overnight and in the morning, fat pony is let out of the corral and he gallops around the track, throwing in some bucks for good measure, to inspect the new section. Of course he does get to eat a little bit of it, but give that he’s put some effort into going around the track and there’s only a little bit to nibble at around the rest of the track, he’s fine.

I’ve noticed a lot move movement from both horses whilst grazing just in the time I’ve been there, which can only be good for both of their overall fitness.

Another bonus is that the grass is plentiful and should last well into the autumn at the rate it’s being grazed down, which will give the winter paddock ample time to recover.

We’ve had to get creative recently with another pony and his forage management after the farrier notices some bruising on his toes. Whilst not laminitic, he also felt a bit “off” to ride so his haynets are double holed, being weighed so he doesn’t get any more than 1% of his body weight, being long reined for miles (and I mean miles as I’ve done a lot of it!), and then we’ve set up a track system on the barest section of the paddock. As this pony lives on his own he has a tendency to stand still, with minimal walking around. He’s currently shut in a corral overnight with small nets in different places to encourage him to wander around the area. Then I’ve told his owners to take his breakfast bucket to the far end of the L shape before letting him out of the corral in the morning. Then he will hopefully start trotting along the track to get breakfast. It’s not much but a bit more exercise than feeding him by the gate. Then he can have any hay put at feeding stations along the track during the day. When he’s not at quite such high risk of laminitis and is in more work then he can have the track lengthened by a couple of inches a day, and hopefully not need to be shut in the corral overnight.

It’s tough, and most owners don’t like the idea of starving their horse, but it is a case of the lesser of two evils – starvation or laminitis – and once you’re on top of their weight and diet it is easier to find a happy medium of a level of feeding which you as an owner feel comfortable with (using muzzles, track systems, soaked hay as preference to grass, a bucket feed) which doesn’t cause weight gain, alongside an exercise regime and daily routine which complements this so that your horse is happy, and in the right condition.

Let’s Talk About Laminitis

Laminitis is mostly associated with spring, and sudden flushes of lush grass, but recently I've heard of a few cases which have been triggered by other causes. Which led me to thinking that a blog post to educate my readers would be very useful.

The most common cause of laminitis in the U.K. is caused by obesity and overeating. Horse owners can be naive, and a lack of knowledge, peer pressure, pressure from feed companies, and unsuitably rich grazing can cause laminitis. Native ponies, who are the most common victims, evolved on sparse landscapes, so can actually live off far less than we realise.

Another cause of laminitis is toxaemia. This is when a systemic disease where the body is poisoned or infected (such as sepsis), such as pneumonia or post colic surgery, triggers laminitis. Unfortunately, in this case the laminitis won't improve until the disease is treated successfully.

Trauma, or mechanical, laminitis is caused by a physical external factor. That may be fast work on hard ground, or prolonged jumping on hard ground. Incorrect shoeing, or incorrect or prolonged poulticing can put pressure on the sole, which can lead to the laminae separating. Unfortunately I've have to mention to a couple of clients recently that I'm not happy with the way their horse is shoe because the hoof-pastern axis has been altered so I fear it is putting pressure on the tendons, ligaments, joints and tissue within the hood capsule.

If a horse has a non-weight bearing lameness they will shift their extra weight onto the opposite limb, so putting more pressure down the leg and risking laminitis. I knew a horse who had fractured his forearm, and was in a Robert Jones bandage for eight weeks in cross ties. There was talk at the time of the risk of stress laminitis in his good foreleg, but thankfully he was okay.

Iatrogenic laminitis is when corticosteroids are used to treat a horse, perhaps as injections for arthritis or tablets for viruses, and trigger laminitis as a side effect. If you've ever had your horse injected with steroids the vet should have told you very clearly that there is a risk of laminitis. This may mean that alternative medication is seeked, particularly if your horse is already prone to laminitis.

Most recently, experts have started linking laminitis to Cushings, or PPID. This sort of laminitis is linked to a hormone imbalance caused by a tumour on the pituitary gland. Many older horses develop PPID, which is why when a horse gets older you should become aware of the risk of laminitis and adjust your management routine and feed accordingly, because even horses who are just on the brink of having PPID could succumb to laminitis for no obvious reason. I recently heard of one older horse, who doesn't have any clinical signs of Cushings, developing laminitis as a result of being given steroid tablets for a cough. Now whether the laminitis was brought on by the steroids, although I'm pretty sure he'd have had steroids before in his life, or whether he was more susceptible because of his age and hormonal imbalance, you can only hazard a guess. Either way, it must be a very frustrating position to be in.

The final trigger of laminitis is stress. That is, overworking an unfit horse, undertaking long journeys in extreme weather conditions. I'm not quite sure how laminitis is triggered, but I guess that the stress causes too much ACTH to be produced which then upsets the hormonal balance, as with a Cushings horse, and then it is that which causes the laminae to become inflamed and to separate.

The experts still aren't sure how laminitis really occurs, but I'm sure new research and scientific advancements means that we'll get the answers soon and so be able to successfully prevent laminitis across the whole population.

The Weight Cycle of a Horse

Let’s take a look at how a wild horse’s weight naturally fluctuates through the seasons because the spring grass is starting to come through and then we all have to be vigilant for the dreaded L-word.

Summer

This is when horses should be in their peak condition. Grass is growing steadily, it’s warm, the grass has a fairly good level of nutrition but there might be slight variations if there’s a hot spell.

Autumn

There is a flush of rich, highly nutritious grass in the autumn, and the horses put on a bit of weight in preparation for the coming months. After the flush of grass, the temperature cools down and the grass grows more slowly and with less nutritional value. 

Wild horses may look on the rotund side in autumn, but their bodies are stock piling energy reserves for the colder months.

Winter

Grass stops growing at six degrees Celsius, and what does grow isn’t very nutritious. Wild horses forage to fill their belly, but rely on their fat stocks for the majority of their energy requirements.

Towards the end of the winter, the horses start to look a bit ribby and thin as they use up their fat resources.


Spring

Wild horses are looking thin, but the spring grass grows rapidly, is lush and full of sugars. The horses put on weight and no longer look half starved. They can end up looking too fat, but once the grass growth levels off for summer then the horse’s weight will plateau.

So how do we, as horse owners, affect this natural fluctuation and what problems does this cause?

By domesticating horses we put them at risk of obesity. For starters, we limit their habitat. This means that they do not need to scavenge for food over miles, thus limiting their exercise. Partnered with the fact our paddocks are specifically grown with horses in mind. That means it’s good quality, plentiful and encourages horses to put on weight easily. After all, in the wild, how often do you see large areas of good quality grazing? You don’t. It’s either small patches of good grazing or larger areas of poorer grazing.

So our horses don’t have to work as hard to fulfill their energy requirements.

Next up, is how we dress our horses. Some of us clip, most of us rug. Clipping removes the thick winter coat, and doesn’t really cause a weight problem in itself. The problem comes in how we rug the horses. Putting a rug on horse means their bodies don’t have to work as hard to keep warm. Which means their energy requirements are less. An unrugged horse will raise their long winter coat, trapping pockets of air to insulate themselves. They will also be using up energy to keep warm. Now, I’m not saying either side is right, but I am saying that there is a balance: an over rugged native pony won’t lose valuable pounds over winter which means that they are already obese coming into spring and are at high risk from laminitis. A clipped horse in too few a rugs will shiver and lose condition because they don’t have their long winter coat to trap air pockets. We have to find the personal balance between clipping and rugging to keep our horses at the optimum temperature.


Stabling horses, and supplementing forage in winter is vital for horse owners because we require horses to work for us and in order to perform for us they need more energy than a wild horse does through winter. Additionally, we have limited land available to us so need to rest our paddocks. Wild horses would roam across vast areas, avoiding the exposed, bare areas in winter thus letting the ground rest and spring grass to flourish before returning there in better weather. 

There isn’t much we can do in terms of not stabling unless we are lucky enough to live on our own large private estate (in my dreams!) but we can be aware of the changing daylight hours, changing temperatures, and make sure forage levels are adjusted in line with grass availability. For example, as the spring grass starts to grow it’s wise to slowly reduce hay put in the field for horses so they don’t have too much intake of food and put on weight too quickly. Often we don’t see the spring grass in our paddocks, but that’s because the horses are eating it as soon as it grows! To monitor grass growth, watch empty paddocks, or grass outside the fields and that will give you a good indication.

By putting our own demands onto horses and domesticating them, we don’t want our horses’ weight to fluctuate, we want them in prime condition all year around. Which is fine, but it’s wise to remember that we have to work with the land, so having your horse come out of winter a little on the lean side is no bad thing because they will soon pick up as the spring grass grows. Likewise, having a horse who will winter out being a bit tubby in autumn is a good thing as he’ll soon lose that keeping himself warm and then be of a good weight ready for the spring.

It’s hard to balance both the natural pressures of the environment and the artificial pressures that we apply to our horse’s lives, but I don’t think we should worry about them being a little lean coming out of winter.

Understanding Grass

I was asked an interesting question by a new horse owner last week.

“How much grass is enough grass?”

The million dollar question.

To me, and to many other horsey peoople, the answer comes from observation, and instinct. To explain our reasoning, however, requires a degree.

Here I`m going to try to explain the elements that we consider when looking at paddock use, rest, and rotation.

The Horse

Different horses need different amounts of food; a native will survive from lower quality, or quantity, of grass than a finer horse of a similar size. Does the horse suffer from laminitis? This will affect the amount of grass they should be permitted for health reasons. Other factors such as their age, body condition, size, and workload, will have an impact on their dietary requirement. 

The Time of Year

Grass is more nutritious in spring and autumn, with higher levels of carbohydrates, and when the temperature is above six degrees celsius grass grows. This means that horse`s need less grazing space when the grass is growing quicker otherwise they risk being overfed. At different times of the year horses are on the pasture for different lengths of time; in winter most horses are stabled at night, and in the summer many live in the field all day. 

The Land

Take a look at the actual grass and weeds that grows in the field; this will give a clue to the pH of the soil (acidic soil gives rise to buttercups, docks, and dandelions). Different grasses grow at different rates in different types of soil and be of a varying nutritional level, and the type of herbs that grow will also be affected. Herbs are beneficial to the horse`s diet but, for example, clover is high in protein and will encourage weight gain. This means that each pasture is different, and it`s makeup needs to be considered when determining how much grass is there. Additionally, different soils cope with adverse weather in different ways – clay soil retains moisture so is harder to manage in the winter. The length of time that a pasture has been there influences it`s durability as the grasses have a more established root structure, so will survive wet conditions better as the soil is less likely to wash a way. If the soil is well draining grass will begin growing earlier in the year, which will affect the time of year and amount of grass growth. It is quite easy to have a soil analysis test taken, and professional advice sought to help manage the grasses on your particular field. Weeds inhibit the growth of grass, so the quality of the grass in a field with a large number of dock leaves will be of a lower quality.

Pasture Management

How you care for the paddock on a day to day basis affects it`s sustainability and how quickly it recovers when it is rested. A pasture that is poo-picked daily will have a lower worm burden, and the grass will grow more evenly; not generating patches of long, sour grass which is not eaten by horses. Over stocking a pasture will lead to the grass being eaten down very quickly  and becoming too short, which inhibits it`s ability to regenerate. Additionally, leaving horses on a pasture for too long will mean that the grass is eaten too close to the root and the root and structure is disturbed. The usual pasture management, such as harrowing or fertilising, will affect the quality of the grasses. It can be useful to fertilise the land to ensure that there is sufficient levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to ensure that the quality of the grass is suitable for horses. Excessive, or incorrect type of fertiliser, can produce rich grass, which puts horses at risk of colic and laminitis.

This list of factors is by no means exhaustive, and over a year or two horse owners begin to know their land, the weeds that tend to grow, how the grass recovers, and it`s rate of growth during the year. By poo-picking daily you have the opportunity to study the ground beneath your feet and the amount of grass there. It is allso useful to assess your horse`s weight and body condition on a weekly basis, as weight gain in spring suggests that the grass is growing too quickly for the horse to eat, and the horse needs less grazing.

Laminitis

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.

Starvation Paddocks

I’ve been off work for a week and, today, had a good look at all the riding school horses. I was pleasantly surprised that they all looked fat and healthy, but disappointed to see that one coloured cob hasn’t lost much in the way of his waistline.
Just before I went away we decided drastic action needed to be taken as one little cob had become obese. He wasn’t laminitic, and even going into winter he was carrying too much weight. So we opted for the starvation paddock route, limiting his hay intake and increasing his exercise.
I’m in two minds about this decision; firstly, this pony is not moving round his paddock, grazing, he just stands and eats his haynet. Surely this isn’t good for his diet.
However, with him close to the barn we are more inclined to use him for clients and as hack escort, and even to put him on the walker. It’s so easy when the horses are in a bigger field, or further away, to overlook them.

The result is that on weekends he does at least two hours work, and an hour every weekday. I’m sure he has toned up a bit, and his girth definitely does up more…

So what is everyones approach to obesity and dieting? Prevention is obviously better than cure; I think next week this cob can go back to the big field but be exercised daily.