Posts

February has been a busy month weather wise, here in Wiltshire we were snowed in earlier in the month, and a few weeks later we’ve had some lovely warm sunny days. Now we are into March and Spring is around the corner. This is the ideal time to think think about laminitis, and assess your horse’s risk levels. There are plenty of actions you can take to help your horse, and I am going to outline these in this article.

If your horse suffers with laminitis you are probably on ‘lami- alert’ all year round, it can be a very difficult condition to manage. However so many owners think of laminitis as a disease that occurs just in the Springtime, and only affects a fat ‘Thelwell’ type pony. Sadly this is not the case. Laminitis is now thought to be the biggest cause of lameness, and an increasing number of horses are euthanized each year due to the unbearable pain of this condition.

 

So with this in mind here are five steps you can take to reduce your horse’s risk of suffering from laminitis.

1. Open your eyes to your horse’s true weight

Laminitis can affect horses of all ages, shapes and sizes but the overweight animal is at significantly greater risk of suffering from laminitis. Whilst a hairy cob or Shetland pony can’t be magically morphed into a lean Thoroughbred it is possible to have your horse at a healthy weight whatever their type.

So firstly it is essential to realistically assess your horse’s weight and body condition score. I say realistically because I hear so many owners give such an array of ‘excuses’ for their horse being overweight. Establishing your horse’s weight using a weighbridge is a very useful exercise, partly to help you create a weight loss plan but also to give you an accurate weight for medication and worming dosing. Assessing your horse’s body condition score, as well as establishing weight is the best way to determine if your horse is overweight, and if so to what extent.

Body condition scoring involves assessing the amount of fat coverage over specific bony landmarks and scoring this on a one to five, or one to nine scale. Just like humans horses and ponies lay down fat in different areas, so it is important to assess the whole horse. I use a nine point scale, and an overall score of 4 or 5 would be ideal. Again there is a need for owners to be realistic and objective when completing this assessment. We sometimes include this as part of a  practical element to our popular Horse First Aid Courses, and I generally hear remarks like ‘he looks well’ for horses scoring a 6 or 7, and an assessments can be skewed by the conformation of the horse or pony. Many owners would be familiar with feeling for their horse’s ribs, but again it is worth highlighting that light pressure should be used, not the owner virtually pushing the horse over in their attempt to feel it’s ribs.

Did you allow seasonal weight loss to occur over the winter? I have written numerous posts and articles over the winter about the benefits of seasonal weight loss, but I still think owners are reluctant to allow this to happen, and don’t to use this to their advantage. It’s not too late to help your horse lose weight naturally by reducing the number of rugs used, leaving stable windows open and choosing lower calorie feed options.

 

2. The right forage ingested at the right rate

The aim of feeding an overweight horse, or one prone to laminitis is to provide a reduced calorifc intake, but still with plenty to eat so that digestive function is not compromised, and natural grazing behaviours can be mimicked. Good options for these horses and ponies are soaked hay, or hay that has been steamed and then soaked. If soaking hay isn’t possible then it is sensible to have your hay analyzed so you know exactly what you are feeding your horse.

To make a comparison with a human needing to lose weight a reduced calorie diet high in fibre, fruit and vegetables results in successful sustainable weight loss. It’s not dissimilar for your horse.

It is well documented that once a horse is overweight metabolic changes can occur, and these horses may also be insulin resistant.  This means that will also be resistant to another hormone called leptin. Leptin is a useful hormone which tells the brain that the horse has had enough to eat. The overweight horse effectively doesn’t have this ‘off- switch’ so it will continue to eat. Slowing down their rate of ingestion is probably one of the easiest steps you can take to help your horse maintain or reach the correct weight. Trickle Net products are an ideal way to slow your horse down, and many owners have noted how much slower their horse is eating, and that their hay is lasting longer. Trickle Nets will help to reduce weight, and maintain a healthy weight. 

 

3. Limiting the grass

At this time of year the grass is already starting to grow, particularly given the lovely warm days we have experienced recently. Unlike hay it can be difficult to assess how many calories your horse is receiving from the grass, and  it is estimated that ponies who are only turned out for a few hours a day can ingested the same amount of grass as those turned out for a whole day.

Providing your horse with less grass, but still giving your horse adequate turn out time is a real challenge. I saw a great set up at a yard last week where three ponies, who have previously suffered with laminitis, had an enriched ‘low grass’ turnout area, and looked very well and happy. They had access to a hard standing covered area with soaked hay, they had some safe ‘scrub-area’ with very poor patchy grass, and access to a little arena as well which they were clearly enjoying for rolling. This was a so much better than stabling these ponies, or giving them a ‘starvation paddock’. They had a lot of space to move around, they had to search out the hay and were able to satisfy their natural behaviours.

Whilst this might be not possible to do at every livery yard a grazing muzzle is a useful way to limit grass intake, without compromising on turnout time. I find that owners are very reluctant to use a muzzle, but in my experience horses and ponies do get used to these very quickly. I suggest to owners that they start off with several different muzzles to find which one suits there horse or pony best, and swapping between different designs will help prevent rubs over the first few days.

Another option which is becoming increasingly more popular is the use of a ‘track’ grazing system, where the centre of a field is fenced off leaving the horses a large walkway round the outside. Hay can be provided if required but this limits grass intake, and encourages more movement which is ideal.

 

4. Establishing an underlying cause

Around 90% of laminitis cases actually have an underlying hormonal cause, and grazing is a trigger for laminitis to occur. Working with your vet to establish the cause, and then working out a sensible treatment plan will help keep laminitis at bay.

The two conditions linked to laminitis are Cushings Disease, correctly termed Pituitary Pars Intermedius Disfunction (PPID), and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. PPID is a hormonal disease caused by changes in the pituitary gland in the brain, it is often a consequence of aging, although it can affect younger horses, and depending on your horse’s age it may be a sensible step to get your horse tested for this disease. It can often be well controlled with medication, and treating this condition will lessen the symptoms of the disease as well as reduce their risk of suffering with laminitis. EMS is likened to a ‘pre-diabetic condition’ in humans and these animals are typically overweight, with abnormal fat distribution and may be insulin resistant putting them at increased risk of laminitis. Working together with your vet to help your horse become a healthy weight will help you manage this condition.

 

5. Know the early signs

If you asked a room full of horse owners to name the signs of laminitis most would describe the classic ‘laminitis stance’, with the horse or pony rocked back on its heels. Research has highlighted many sub-clinical signs of laminitis, which if noted in time allow for treatment and management changes before the condition worsens.

Horses may change their behaviour in the stable, banking up bedding under their hooves to take pressure of the front of the hoof. The appearance of hoof rings on the outside of the hoof, is likely to indicate changes in the lamellar cells, and this may allow a window of time for treatment before the condition develops and becomes increasingly more painful

The horses digital pulse can often give you a good indication that something is happening within the foot, so it’s a great idea to get familiar with what the ‘normal’ pulse feels like with your horse. When the pulse feels stronger, more ‘bounding’ this can be a warning sign.

Your horses gait may change in the early stages of laminitis. It’s common for horse owners to report their horses as moving with shorter steps, slightly ‘pottery.’ If caught and treated correctly at this stage, recovery can be much swifter and more simple. Don’t ignore any changes in gait. Always seek advice if you suspect something is not quite right.

One study noted that the ‘Horse Grimace Scale’, a method of facial pain recognition scoring was a more accurate way to note pain associated with laminitis, and that these facial expressions were more common in laminitic horses and ponies than the classic laminitis stance. There are certainly many signs to look out for before the horse is lame with hot painful hooves.       

    Horse Grimace scale research

 

I hope that you have found this article helpful, and this you feel empowered to take some positive steps in the fight against laminitis. Remember this condition can affect horses and ponies of all ages and sizes, but that there is lots that owners can do to prevent this happening.

 

If you’d like to learn more about laminitis, and how to manage this condition why don’t you take part in the first ‘National Laminitis Awareness Day’ which I am running on 10th July 2019. You can take part in webinars, Q+A sessions with our vets and there will be lots of free fact sheets to download. You’ll even be able to get a discount code to use on your next purchase at Trickle Net, it’s going to be an action packed day.

You can register for more details at the link below

http://eepurl.com/giIXx5

 

Visit the website for details of my courses at http://www.nkcequestrian.com

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
07824326245

You’ve heard it before, or perhaps you even do it. Feeding ad lib hay is often thought to be the most natural way to feed forage. Well that depends entirely on the horse you’re feeding. Feeding ad lib hay can be a big mistake for some horses and ponies. Especially our Native breeds.

Our Guest blogger Nicola Kinnard-Comedie from NKC Equestrian Training talks about when ad lib works well, and how and why it often doesn’t.

When is ad lib hay just too much?

Many horse owners will be aware that it’s essential to provide your horse with sufficient forage (hay or haylage), but how much do they actually need? It is popular with some owners to feed ‘ad-lib’ hay, but what does this mean and is this the best option for your horse?

 

Why would I want to give my horse ad-lib hay?

We know that the horse is a ‘trickle feeder’ designed to be eating for around 18 hours in a 24 hour period. The horse needs to chew to produce saliva and this has a healthy effect on the digestive system, buffering the naturally acid areas of the stomach where gastric ulcers can occur. Life is quite different for the domesticated horse which may be turned out in a small paddock and stabled for 12-18 hours a day. It is well documented that feeding restricted amounts of hay can raise cortisol levels, increase incidences of gastric ulcers and induce stress related behaviour such as crib biting.

In an attempt to replicate more natural feeding behaviour lots of owners want to give their horse a large quantity of hay, so that it doesn’t run out and the horse can be constantly eating. This sounds ideal, and many argue that the horse will only eat as much as it needs so that it will maintain a healthy weight. But is this true for all horses?

I have a good-doer… can he have ad-lib hay?

This is where feeding ad-lib hay becomes problematic, and for a horse that is overweight allowing free access to hay is not recommended.

It is important to note that each horse will have individual requirements for how many calories they need in a day, just like people. Whilst forage should make up the majority of any horse’s diet, providing an all day ‘hay buffet’ is just not suitable for a good doer or an overweight horse or pony. This includes your native types who are more inclined to hold on to extra weight, and are not designed to metabolise the amount of calories provided by ad lib hay.

There are many reason ad lib may not work for your horse, but we will look at two big ones.

Firstly hay significantly differs in nutritional value and unless you have each batch of hay analysed you don’t really know how much sugar, starch and calories you might be providing. Hay made earlier in the season will be more calorific, hay made from predominantly ryegrass will contain a lot more sugar than hay made from a meadow grass mix. It’s worth remembering that hay is a farmed crop. It is fertilised and tended to provide maximum nutrition. This is a long way from the natural forage (gorse, bark, moss, different grasses, reeds weeds and scrub) that our native breeds thrive on in their natural environment.

Secondly your horse may not be able to regulate thier intake as well as owners assume. Horses are meant to have ‘nutritional wisdom’, selecting the nutrients and quantities that they need, but there isn’t actually much empirical evidence to support this idea. Horses which are overweight, or good-doers, may also be insulin resistant, which means that will also be resistant to another hormone called Leptin. Leptin is a useful hormone which tells the brain that the horse has had enough to eat. The overweight horse effectively doesn’t have this ‘off- switch’ so it will continue to eat….and eat…and eat!

 

Which horses can have ad-lib hay?

For horses that are the correct body weight and in regular exercise, or have increased nutritional requirements providing free access to hay can work well. For example horses living out may have access to a large round bale of hay in the winter months, and provided they aren’t overweight they will regulate their intake reasonably well. For those living out they will also be moving around more, inevitably spend time away from the hay and will have increased energy requirements from the cold.

Horses which are stabled can either guzzle their hay too quickly, or waste it turning it into a bed if providing with excess. The best way to provide continual access to forage for a stabled horse if to divide the hay up into smaller quantities, (feeding some at 4pm and more at 8pm), and to use a system designed to slow the horse down, such as a Trickle Net. This allows the benefit of much longer time to access forage but prevents the horse eating it too quickly.

How much hay does my horse need?

Your horse needs 1.5%-2.5% of their ideal body weight as food intake. Depending on your horse, it’s health status and your pasture grazing alone may provide sufficient intake for the Spring and Summer months.

For the rest of the year, and for horses who have restricted access to grass, you will need to provide this as hay.

If your horse is overweight, it is recommended to feed 1.5% of his/her body weight. So for a 650kg horse, that’s 9.75kg per day. Many owners have no idea how much hay they actually feed- do you weigh hay out?

 

 

I hope you have found this blog useful in helping you decide how much hay your horse should receive. Please remember to consider how much hay your horse actually needs, the type of hay you are feeding, and don’t forget ways to provide more access to forage without allowing your horse to overeat and become obese.

Nicola
Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
07824326245
NKC Equestrian Training run Horse First Aid and Horse Anatomy courses across the UK together with qualified vets
Visit http://nkcequestrian.com for more information.

Follow NKC Equestrian Training on Facebook