Laminitis is a crippling disorder that causes the soft tissues within a horse’s hoof to swell and weaken. Dietary management is one of the best ways to prevent laminitis.
So let’s take a look at horses and their diet…
Horses are fundamentally designed to run and graze for 20 hours a day and sleep for the other four. They will then have the choice of what they graze on. Whether it is a herb species that supplies their mineral requirement or a carefully considered grass species delivering the energy they need.
Just think what we give them to feed on, or in! Often less than their ideal surrounding, but they have to be safe and secure. On top of that, we are all rushing about being busy, and never seem to have the hours to spend with our animals.
My late father was a veterinary surgeon who had an interesting holistic approach to treating all large animals. Especially horses. In the 1960s, he used acupuncture and homeopathy to great effect to help alleviate the symptoms of Laminitis in the Shires and Friesians that the neighbouring estate used for dragging timber logs out of the woods.
As an Equine Agronomist, I have explored for many years the herb species available to provide succour to our horses when they know that they are lacking a vitamin or mineral. I always include Yarrow Achillea millefolium in the sward, as it is a diaphoretic herb that improves blood circulation and general blood flow. Both attributes are essential to speed up the rate of healing, and prevention of, Laminitis.
In recent years I have increasingly come to realise just how important his holistic approach was to manage the environment in which we keep animals.
My opinion has been confirmed further with research by Marytavy Archer during 1969-70 – giving me even greater conviction of purpose. She conducted an extraordinary experiment while studying at university. Essentially, she monitored the species preference of grazing horses through an extraordinary level of dedication of two hundred and twenty hours of study over two years.
The results were subject to strict statistical analysis and reviewed by her peers. During the research 24 ponies and two thoroughbreds were given access to 29 different trial plots that either contained individual grass species (eg Rye grass or Timothy); grass and legumes; grass (Fescue Spp. & Timothy) and herbs.
A staggering investment in time, effort and thought.
That all the horses preferred the predominately native grasses (Fescue Spp) combined with Timothy was not a surprise to me. And, if those species were enriched with a range of herbs, all the horses ate those plots first.
One of my specialisations is the application of Albrecht Soil Science to ensure that grass contains the necessary nutrients that should naturally be available to the horse.
Once the soil is put back into balance and the appropriate grass species incorporated into the sward (upper layers of soil covered in grass) and companion species added to finish the improvement then the likelihood of your horses generating Laminitis can be massively reduced. Or in the majority of cases eliminated all together.
Preventing Laminitis in your horses
What to avoid:
- Ryegrass species – Ryegrass is designed to produce high levels of non-structured carbohydrate (NSCs) or fructose as sugar, from dietary intake. Fructose is the last thing that the horse’s digestive tract needs, as it can’t digest them. The Streptococcus bacteria proliferate in the hind gut destroying the beneficial flora and consequently trigger a Laminitic event or even worse, Metabolic Syndrome
- Clover – All clovers produce and store energy as NSCs. The exceptions to this rule regarding legumes, as they are fantastic for horse environments, are Black Medic nigrum medic or Trefoil Spp trifolium
- ‘Treats’ – Apples / Carrots / Bread / Polos – all contain intense sugar levels
- Starvation paddocks – These are a complete misnomer! Short grass is ALWAYS full of sugar (NSCs) as the grass is desperately trying to reproduce biomass. Therefore be tall enough to flower and replicate their genes.
- Cereal grains – Even worse for the horse if they are coated in molasses. Unfortunately, I often encounter environments that generate Race Horses that are riddled with ulcers and prone to laminitis because of their high energy diets
- Rapidly growing grass –Grass that is rapidly growing, and especially Ryegrass, will be full of sugar as fructose as the grass rushes to produce biomass while the ideal weather lasts
- Leg injuries – Inadvertently this can generate Laminitis in the load-bearing leg/s. A high degree of Laminitic incidence occurs when an injury is combined with a high-energy diet
What to do:
- Ensure that the grazing land is full of Fescue Spp, Timothy & Cocksfoot
- Remove all weeds and introduce Companion Species to your sward
- Find out what the nutrients are that your soil is lacking and rectify the imbalance. This deficiency in the soil will inevitably be replicated in the grass / hay. Don’t waste your money on a replacement supplement with everything in, as the horse will just excrete what it doesn’t need!
- Maintain a high exercise regimen to ensure horse hoof and body health
- Prevent your horses’ hooves from being exposed to prolonged immersion. Especially if the water has faecal contamination as this will soften the hooves even more and rapidly increase the likelihood of a Laminitic event
- Ensure that there is adequate Boron in your soil and hay / haylage. Boron is a key constituent of bone and foot health.
- Get all your hay / haylage analysed to assess the carbohydrate content!
- If you have a horse or pony is prone to Laminitis, where ever possible feed them more hay than fresh grass. Ideally on a hard-standing outdoors so that they can still interact with the world.