Ever Wondered why your Horse gets Laminitis when he is not Fat?


By Jenny Paterson, B.Sc.


Even this is too much GrassThis has always intrigued me. My sister Tracey had a small pony called Sweetie. Unfortunately she was one of those founder prone ponies who was a nightmare to keep. Her paddock had been chewed down to where all that grew was Subterranean Clover. She was not fat but she would get stiff, have sore feet overnight and was always accompanied by raspy breathing. Within twenty four hours she would be very laminitic, in agony and unable to move at all, requiring intensive care to rehabilitate.


After repeated episodes, at the first sign of raspy breathing and sore feet, Tracey would move Sweetie to a neighbouring property (which had old, brown grass) where she would be fine. The interesting thing was that on the walk over there, whilst starting out stiff, sore and reluctant to move, by the time she got there she would be walking normally. It seemed she would warm out of it.


One time, when living at our place with three mini's (on brown, dried grass), Sweetie was good as gold until she escaped onto a green paddock. When I discovered her in the morning she already had raspy breathing. This went away within a couple of days. I have no doubt sore feet and laminitis would have followed had she been out there much longer.


Dimples locked in a Yound YardThere are numerous cases where, whilst the first episode of laminitis was preceded by obesity and insulin resistance, these horses and ponies are very susceptible to further bouts of laminitis even though they are no longer obese and have low carbohydrate diets. The question is why!


The clues lie within Jane's story about inflammation which was fixed by temporarily eliminating grass altogether. This had the effect of correcting her horse's electrolyte imbalance of too much potassium and not enough sodium, calcium and magnesium. Removing all grass, Lucerne and other high potassium feeds like kelp and molasses from the diet gets potassium DOWN and adding salt, organic calcium and organic magnesium to the rations gets these essential minerals UP. Horses do not get adequate sodium from salt-licks. A good starting guide for feeding salt is 10gms per 100Kg of body weight to their feed.


Feeding commercial electrolytes is not the answer as they contain potassium. Horses are supposed to be able to excrete any excess potassium in their urine but in the absence of sodium this does not occur. When salt is added to their diet, they drink more and this assists with the excretion of excess potassium.


Meg riding DimplesUnder the right conditions even the shortest green grass will cause these horses and ponies to get sore feet and develop laminitis. This is because potassium is involved in cell division and therefore is abundant in the tips of the growing grass no matter how short it is.


Pictured here is Dimples who had chronic laminitis. She was reluctant to move at all and stood there shifting her weight from foot to foot. She was moved to a round pen (pictured above) where there was no green grass for her to nibble. By the next day she was much more comfortable and was moving around of her own accord. Within two weeks she was being ridden by the kids.


Jane's horse Amigo had muscular inflammation, Dimples had inflammation of the laminae. The same feeding regime worked on both of them. It also works on head-flicking which is inflammation of the trigeminal nerve in the head.


If your horse has unexplainable bouts of laminitis:


  • Remove ALL green for their diet (this includes even the tiniest green grass, Lucerne or Clover),
  • A 'track' is best but otherwise a good sized yard, arena or sprayed out area is okay,
  • Feed unlimited soaked hay. Soaking eliminates 30% of the Non Structural Carbohydrates (NSC, commonly know as sugar) and 50 % of potassium (refer to Katy Watts from Safe Grass).


A small feed per day is required for the purpose of ensuring they get the right nutrition:


  • Beet pulp is great with a bit of oaten chaff for taste,
  • Salt (10gms per 100Kgs),
  • Highly absorbable organic magnesium with boron plus extra organic calcium,
  • Vitamins and minerals that contain no potassium but do contain organic chromium, copper, zinc, selenium and all the other vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health.


Dimples AfterThe best solution for preventing laminitis is to be proactive. Keep them on a track or have a dry lot with zero green for dangerous times of the year such as spring and autumn. Give them access to hay and their hard feed with the goodies. When they are fully sound, introduce them to mature grass for half an hour morning and night.


Remember, it is grass in its vegetative state (growing) that is dangerous for founder prone horses and ponies.


View a short video of Dimples.


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