Many of us aren't looking for laminitis at this time of year, interpreting the signs as something else (stone bruise, hard ground, touchy after shoeing). The need to stay alert to signs of laminitis continues year round. Distinct seasonal changes produce physiologic changes in the horse that can result in an onset of laminitis.
Dr. Mark Donaldson of Unionville Equine Associates notes that some research has shown an increase in ACTH in the Fall. ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone, is released from the pituitary gland, often in response to biological stress. “This increase, whether occurring naturally or as a result of changes in grass sugars, could trigger laminitis,” Donaldson explains. “Many horses are at peak body weight in the Fall, further compounding their risk for developing laminitis.”
Ohio farrier Bryan Farcus, MA, CjF, adds: “The diet of a foraging horse will change as the seasons change. A plant that is normally digestible during the summer months can become toxic in a stage of bloom or wilting during the fall/early winter months.”
The mainstay of preventing laminitis is careful diet control. Keeping your horse fit is also very important. Discuss with your veterinarian issues of metabolic changes that can predispose the horse to laminitis and what preventive measures you can incorporate into your horsekeeping.
NO HOOF CARE VACATION
Good hoof care is one of the essentials in reducing the risk of laminitis. Maintaining healthy feet by keeping a regular trim/shoeing schedule all year long will help your horse maintain optimum hoof function.
“Some horse owners see the winter as an off-season from their horse activity and may feel it is a good time to forgo any routine care/hoof trimming,” Farcus points out. He cautions, however, “Letting the hoof go until spring riding season can lead to possible stress due to the extra trauma of an unbalanced hoof.”
Feet that have irregular care are under more stress. Long feet create more mechanical stress on the structures of the foot. “Some think that short/worn-down hooves are not unbalanced because they’re not long,” Farcus says. “This one-sided view ignores the other dimension of a medial/lateral balance (inner/outer sides of the hoof).”
Healthy feet are more resilient to any insult and can heal better than feet coping with compromise. If laminitis develops, the overly stressed laminae can be more easily and more profoundly damaged.
One of the first things to do if your horse has been diagnosed with laminitis is to get the feet as comfortable as possible. If your horse is shod, the first step is to remove the shoes and apply some supportive pad/boot system. Boots are helpful in that they are easily removed for any hoof treatments that may be necessary. Various types of padding can be switched around or modified to fine tune comfort measures. Some boots are made especially for laminitic horses. Soft-Rides (www.softrideboots.com) are great in that they have very thick silicone pads that come in different densities and can easily be modified. They are also easy to put on and take off, which can be a real plus. Easycare’s Rx boot (www.easycareinc.com) is also a great boot for the laminitic horse, lightweight and easy to put on and off. Different pads can be added to this boot as needed. Easycare’s Old Mac boots are supportive, relatively easy to put on and have a good traction on the base, when your horse is healed and ready for riding.
Frequent hoof care is critical in supporting proper healing. It is not uncommon to have the laminitic horse trimmed as frequently as every 2 or 3 weeks, tapering to a four-week cycle as the horse becomes more stable. Gentle encouragement to move a little every day (in boots) is helpful. Movement supports good circulation, helps the body relax out of pain-related postures and breaks up the boredom of being immobilized.
Each horse is different in his or her response to laminitis. It is important to recognize that laminitis is a very dynamic disease: what helps one day or week or month may not be as effective the next time. Similarly, what works for your horse may not be helpful to another horse. The challenges of the disease demand creative caretaking.
The informed and engaged horse owner is the most important element in helping a horse avoid or recover from laminitis – so take your role seriously! You are on the front line. The more familiar you are with how your horses’ feet look, how they normally stand, what their normal digital pulses feel like, and what the normal range of their hoof temperature is will help a great deal if you are evaluating a suspected case of laminitis.
Laura Florence is an American Farrier’s Association Certified Farrier serving a wide variety of clients, from backyard companions to competitive sport horses. She served as a Resident Farrier with the University of Pennsylvania, New Bolton Center Farrier Service for seven years. In 2007, Laura began a private practice in southeastern Pennsylvania, dedicated to the rehabilitation and maintenance of the horse’s hoof through a holistic approach. www.holistichoofcare.com
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