LAMINITIS- WHAT PART OF GETTING THEM OFF THE GRASS IS IT THAT YOU DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?
Did you know that New Zealand is the Equine Laminitis Capital of the World?
Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way!
It was nearly twenty years ago when I rescued my first laminitic horse. I remember how much of a baptism of fire this was, as I had previously had very little to do with laminitis up until then.
The poor horse in question was very sore on his hooves, and could hardly take a step, bless him. I watched him carefully, as he was shifting his weight from one foot to the other every few minutes in a bid to relieve the pain and try to establish some semblance of comfort. He also was suffering from a hoof abscess too, and there was heat in the hoof with a throbbing at the back of the heel like a pulse. We did all we could to keep him comfortable with poultices and then ice baths to try to reduce the inner swelling of the laminae, which did seem to help a bit.
I remember it vividly, as it certainly wasn't very nice watching this poor fella suffering like that, and what was even more perplexing is how it could have been caused by grass??? As surely horses are meant to eat grass aren't they?
So, off I went to hit the books and the veterinary universities to try to find out all I could about this condition. After researching it in detail, all to try to help this poor horse that I had rescued , and armed with advice from my Vet to shoe him, I must admit I was very confused. However, I prepared my open barn with deep shavings and gave the horse in question a little taped off area at the front of it that was sparsely covered in grass, and fed hay and painkillers of Bute etc....and waited for the recovery.
Which despite my best efforts just did not happen???
This was most upsetting and confusing for me on why the horse wasn't getting any better, but as I had also just taken the plunge into going barefoot for the first time too, I decided to consult my trimmer and asked her "I'm not sure why he isn't getting better"
After my trimmer assessed what I thought was a sparse balding paddock that this horse was being kept in, she told me rather brutally "what part of getting him off the grass is it that you don't understand'!
This feels so weird to read this now, as I remember that I was absolutely flawed with shock, and dismay, as well as upset by her harsh statement, as I felt it was really unfair.
After all, I had tried so hard to do so much for this horse and I protested that my Vet had said that this approach was fine and that there was so little grass in the area....so surely he would be ok????
Now it has been nearly 2 decades since then, and I'm the one using that same statement these days, as after being involved in rehabilitating hundreds of laminitic horses since that time as my job working with rescue horses, as well as helping people with so many of their own domestic horses too. I know only too well that my trimmers brutal advice was so right, especially after studying equine behaviour and nutrition.
These days I work hands on to educate owners about laminitis through our Rescue Centre here at Natural Horse NZ. Where we try to get to owners before this awful condition strikes, by providing them with knowledge, help, support, and with the real facts on how to prevent their horses getting this condition.
If a horse does have laminitis then we help them on how to help their horse recover in the fastest and most painless way possible.
But it is not an easy task, as the disease is peppered with myths and untruths, where rarely people agree on what is best, which all can affect a horses recovery.
What has been the most shocking is that we have found to our absolute alarm and dismay, that some Vets don't know how to manage laminitis, which took us to further research to find out why as time and time again unfortunately we've heard of horses being returned to grass too soon, only to relapse due to poor advise given by some Vets, which is most upsetting to be aware of.
As much as it pains me to write this as I have the utmost respect for the Veterinary Profession, but because our New Zealand Vet Training school of Massey University doesn't teach our Vets enough about Equine Nutrition to arm them with the knowledge about the affects of Pasture Induced Laminitis. And it seems that unless in their early years as a Vet in training, they understudy with a Laminitis savvy Vet, that once they are out in the field, then they will be as in the dark about it as many owners are, because we sadly hear of weekly occurrences through our rescue work, when some Vets have encouraged owners to put sick horses back on the very grass that is causing the condition.
We've also discovered that many Veterinary teaching establishments, including our own Massey Equine Department, are still stuck in the dark ages about ways to address this disease. As so many of them seem to only want to load up sick horses on Bute (phenylbutazone), which has been banned in several countries for human use, and can make metabolic issues worse if not used wisely. Added by an absolute insistence into putting metal shoes on horses suffering with laminitis, which unfortunately is most of what is being filtered down to their Vets as the only treatments for the condition :(
Our centre has being involved with treating hundreds, if not thousands of lamintis cases, all over the world, and along with many others who also go for the more natural approach to successful reverse this abhorrent condition, the bottom line is that painkillers are required and work well if used intelligently in moderation, but that a metal horseshoe plays no part in the recovery of any horse with laminitis that we have ever worked with. In fact, it's been quite the opposite in our experience, as we have found them to be an expensive and unnecessary hindrance to the recovery from this disease.
We definitely recommend hoof protection, in the form of hoof boots with inner pads for the horses comfort and support, as well as to aid with their recovery. We use this approach because it has given us the very best chance of success at rehabilitating of the hoof, which is because hoof boots flex with the hoof to work with the equine foot as nature intended. In addition to allowing for natural contact of the frog with the ground or the inner part of the hoof boot, which in turn creates a healthier circulation and a more robust digital cushion. Which is the most important feature in any healthy hoof. Along with non invasive trimming and the correct approach to diet and paddock management, to both prevent as well as reverse the condition.
The Pasture induced version of laminitis is by far the deadliest condition most horses will face in their lifetime, as it is a truly horrific disease that is only topped by colic for equine death rates. But IT IS a man made condition, rather than a disease. It is caused by a lack of awareness on what grass can do to horses, and poor paddock management to address this.
Sadly, every year hundreds of horses die from Laminitis and a lot of them are right here in New Zealand. All because it is not addressed early enough or given the respect it deserves to get horses off the grass during our prolific grass growth danger times. And severe pedal bone rotation can occur if an affected horse is left at pasture, as well as sinking inner hoof bones, which are often irreversible and euthanasia is advised with most horses who have experienced this, due to the level of pain for the horse. All of which can be avoided by correct grass management, and a healthy low sugar diet-please see our other pages for more info about this.
With even a single blade of green grass being too much for the horse who is actively foundering due to pasture induced laminitis.
Please note: all sizes and breeds of horse can get laminitis. Please be aware of your horses risk to developing this disease through too much access to green growing pasture grasses, especially when the conditions are wet and warm, such as Spring and Autumn.
For Recovery Advice about Horses suffering with Laminitis please see the next page.