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Not only small, fat ponies suffer from laminitis

IMPORTANT INFO: If you haven't coped with laminitis before and you suspect your horse or pony may have it, call the veterinary surgeon immediately as it is a very serious condition and can prove fatal if left untreated.

Preventing laminitis, the curse of native breeds 

What is laminitis? The suffix ‘itis’ means inflammation and laminitis is the painful inflammation of the laminae in a horse’s hoof. This can be caused by a number of different conditions but the common one is grass induced and often affects native breeds of horses and ponies which are genetically programmed to live in areas of poor grassland, such as the Connemara, Irish Draught, Shetland and native moorland ponies. Overweight animals and 'good doers’ will often suffer from laminitis. When laminitis becomes chronic, it is often called founder in the USA.  

Watch out for sudden grass growth - Once a horse has been diagnosed with laminitis, he will always be prone to it. As soon as grass starts to grow reduce the horse’s grazing hours. A sand arena is useful for a horse recovering from laminitis as he can walk about to improve circulation and the sand is soft under his feet. Use small paddocks and sand arena for turn out.  

Use low protein feeds - Feed plenty of fibre, such as hay, in a net which will take longer to eat and help prevent boredom. Feed a low protein, low carbohydrate, low sugar diet such as beet pulp, oats, low protein coarse mix and up to one cup of vegetable oil a day which helps keep on weight. There are several good fibre chops available on the market and some feeds especially for laminitis prone horses. Oil pellets are expensive but an easy way to add extra oil to the diet.  

Exercise is important - but only after they have become sound again. Some owners let their animals out on grass with a muzzle to prevent too much grazing so that they will get exercise but you can use small paddocks and a sand arena. Never risk putting laminitis prone horses and ponies on a large field full of grass. Never put small ponies on rich grass, even if they’ve never had laminitis. Animals can be lunged or loose lunged to keep them working if they can’t be ridden.  

Always keep a look out for the first signs of laminitis - If a laminitis prone horse or pony looks any way stiff or is lying down for longer periods, bring him into a stable immediately and reduce feed until he moves freely again. You will save him a lot of pain and misery if you act quickly. More info from The Laminitis Trust - http://www.laminitis.org/

Laminitis appears to be like human diabetes 

I have natives, three of which suffer from laminitic episodes. I feed them poor hay, Dengie Hi Fi Lite and powdered cinnamon, which reduces the insulin levels - it appears laminitis is linked to human diabetes. One of my shetlands is now on Metformin (diabetes tablets). He's not allowed grass or anything with sugar, including carrots etc, and has to be regularly exercised to keep the glucose levels down. (By Ros Steward)

Tips from other owners on how to keep laminitis at bay

Use a haynet with a fine mesh to make your horse eat more slowly. This is a strong, hard-wearing haynet recommended by vets and farriers but any haynet with an extra fine mesh is useful to keep your horse busy and stop him feeling frustrated in the stable or in a bare field. It also saves you money as the horse tosses less hay on the ground.

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Real Life Story of Laminitis 

My old pony suffered with the darn illness. She went to The Laminitis Clinic and I was amazed that the first thing they said was DO NOT put her on short bare field. Apparently the fructans that we all know about are even stronger in shorter stressed grass. She had ad lib hay in a stable and we put her out for a few hours in the afternoon. She went from being a sick rescue pony to being a little girl’s best Pony Club pal.
I feed my guys Safe and Sound, grass nuts that I treat like sugarbeet and Dengie Hi Fi Lite. In the spring and summer when the feeding stops I throw a scoop of nuts (Laminitis approved) across the field as it takes them hours to snuffle them all out and stops them eating the early grass so much. If she becomes tender on her toes then a stable with a minimum of 18 inches of sawdust (dust not shavings) as this supports the foot. This way seems to work as a girl I worked with had a horrendous laminitic who took her to the Europeans in the Junior Eventing Team. Most important, contact the people that know and they will help you work out what is best for your pony as they are all different. (By Annie Worsley)


 A grazing muzzle limits the amount of grass a horse or pony can eat but he can still enjoy being out in the paddock.

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Try to avoid feeding hard food like competition mixes or sugary mixes. Just keep on hay and, if on grass, use a muzzle. The sugar is in the grass first thing in the morning so avoid her being out then. Restrict grazing to 4 or 5 hours a day.

Cut the feed down and give more exercise for the horse to burn off the sugar and in spring time turnout 10 till 2 as the grass is not at its high sugar level.

Dengie Hi Fi Lite is a good feed which you could feed if keeping horse off the grass. It's made from chopped straw. Put it with some low energy nuts. It makes them feel full but doesn't give them the sugar to make laminitis worse.

My farrier told me to keep my daughter’s pony in the yard and give him hay. Keep him out of the field so I give him a pick of grass now and then. If it flairs up again it’s hard to get feet right after it and they'll end up on painkillers if you want to ride them, so it’s better to avoid what causes it.

Happy Hoof feed is also good and the supplement Laminase works a treat!

Remedial shoeing can also help keep a horse sound with laminitis. DO NOT feed haylage and you need to soak hay to get rid of rich nutrients.

Don't feed to much hay or grass and each day feel the top of the hoof, and see if it’s cold or warm or pick the horse’s hoof up and feel down the sides of the frog.

(Contributors:  Poppy Louise Hall, Natalie Roper, Caroline Bermingham, Gabby Rose, Irene Melville, Annie Worsley, Emma Louise Standing, Ros Steward, Megan Rogers, Christie Perrin and Pamela Street.)

We used a weighband (equine tape measure) to keep an eye on our Irish Draught's waistline. It's not as accurate as a weighbridge but gives an approximate idea, especially if you keep notes of the measurements throughout the laminitis season.

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Warn public with a sign about diet restrictions! 

Don’t panic as I had a pony non ridden that lived with serious laminitis for 15 years, but if you do turn out on a bare paddock and the public can see your horse, please put up signs saying your horse is there for serious health reasons. Three times the RSPCA got called to a starving pony (which was my sick pony!)  They have real cases to look into so just make public aware. (By Emma Louise Standing)

An holistic treatment for laminitis 

My daughter is an holistic therapist who also does equine therapies as well.  When our pony got it last year she started giving her dried nettles and garlic, also Devils Claw capsules twice a day. She also used to massage her legs and hooves. Within a few days she was a lot better.  She doesn’t believe in giving them Bute. You wouldn’t think our star had anything wrong with her now. (By Pamela Street)


The Laminitis Trust

Keep up to date with information from The Laminitis Trust - www.laminitis.org