Scaremongering…

Laminitis posterThis photo and a list of ten points was recently posted to a social media site:

Essentially a praiseworthy action from a group that has a generally responsible if occasionally misguided approach to hoof care. As they state, the owner is responsible for his or her horse’s welfare – an area fraught with misunderstandings and traditions.

Where the action breaks down is in the general statement and at least six of the points cited to underline the statement:

There is NEVER a horse we come across who has not suffered from or is suffering from chronic laminitis

In itself, this is a very bold and very disputable statement. I would challenge anyone to identify a horse that is fully recovered from a laminitic bout. When there is little or no damage to the corium, a hoof will regrow conform  to its natural pattern. But to actually claim that every single horse has or has had laminitis…sorry but this is either pure hyperbole or scaremongering and is at best, highly unprofessional.

The ten points are:

  1. Laminitis can be both chronic & acute. Just because your horse isn’t leaning back in the ‘laminitis stance’ doesn’t mean it hasn’t got laminitis!
  2. Feed your horse grass everyday & your horse WILL show signs of chronic episodes of inflammation.
  3. Laminitis is not just about the feet…it affects the entire body & is now being redefined as a whole system inflammatory response syndrome.
  4. A horizontal ring on a hoof equals a laminitic inflammatory bout….the more severe & regular the rings, the more chronic your horse is.
  5. Swellings around the eyes & sheaths, fat pads & laminitic crests are signs your horse is a chronic laminitic.
  6. If your horse is footy without shoes, he is having chronic laminitic bouts.
  7. If your horse gets ‘gravel’ up its white lines, it’s because they are separated & weak…your horse has had chronic bouts of laminitis.
  8. Red lines/spots visible in the hoof walls/soles are very rarely down to ‘bruising’….they are signs of chronic bouts of laminitis…check other hooves for redness in the same areas, you’ll find them!
  9. If your horse ‘needs’ shoes because it can’t ‘cope’ without them (hooves DO NOT wear away barefoot) then your horse is a chronic laminitic.
  10. Lamintis (& colic) are the BIGGEST cause for horse DEATH around the world….because most (YES MOST) domestic horses suffer from chronic bouts during their lives!

It cannot be denied that exposure to grass can trigger a laminitic response but in fact the situation is far more complex than that. The complete lifestyle of the horse needs to be considered. Since a vast majority of horses spends the winter locked up in a box between 16 and 22 hours a day, with a minimum of exposure to the outside world, or a few hours in a paddock – often with a shortage of hay – at best, it is an enormous shock to the system when they are turned out in spring and suddenly encounter young sweet fresh grass. Many horses that do spend more time outside throughout the year, are often restricted to a very sedentary life: the occasional excursion to the riding ring on a Saturday afternoon being the height of activity. Add to this the often restricted space they live in (undersized fields) and most importantly, the bad foods they are almost always being fed – grain and cereals, and in excessive quantities – then we are indeed talking about laminitis waiting to happen.

On the other hand, the EquiLibre herd of 75+ horses, grazing on the grassy slopes of the Pyrenees during the summer and 80 hectares of rolling grassland in the Aude during the winter, do not have and have never had laminitis. These horses are exposed to grass for more than 8500 hours a year – that’s allowing ten days for the actual time they are ridden and unable to eat! But they also have to expend energy to eat. They climb over 1000 metres; they graze an area where rocks are not necessarily predominant, but they do reduce the amount of grass available.

A horse moves to eat, and eats to move.

This adage is essential to the well-being of the horse. Both physiologically and psychologically. Whilst it may seem strange to say that a horse is psychologically compromised if it cannot eat, this is in fact the case; the reason a horse displays stable vices is principally boredom resulting from inadequate contact with other horses and lack of food. (By chance, a study by Nottingham Trent University has been given UK press coverage today – it highlights the fact that horses fare badly when stabled.) The horse eats upwards of 15 “meals” over a period of between 12 and 16 hours a day.

My own horse does not have the luxury of 2,000ha of Pyrenee to wander, not even the 80ha of the winter. However, she is outside 24 hours a day, never blanketed, never fed anything other than supplemental hay when the grass in the field is almost non existent or if she has to be confined to the paddock for any period due to excessively wet fields or – as is now the case – the fields have been fertilised. And worst of all (shock-horror) the grass is probably the most unsuitable of all grasses, namely rye grass. And yet Fleur has solid feet, crunches rocks with impunity – and, just as the plumber has leaking taps, I’m afraid her feet are a little “neglected” and only get a look in every 12 to 15 weeks. But, Fleur has room to move in her field and even more importantly, she goes out on the road four to six times a week for at least an hour a time and often longer. This compensates more than adequately for the long trimming intervals, stimulates circulation in the hooves (purging toxins – read “sugars”) and emulates the daily movement of the natural horse.

I know Fleur is not a “fat little pony” but rather a half-blood Arabian, but there is another horse that has more or less the same regime as Fleur (the only exception being the owner that considers a blanket necessary if it is wet – but then again, if you brush your horse twice a day, there won’t be any protective fat left in the fur to ward the water off!). This is a – potentially – fat little pony. Brought up and kept in typical stabling for her first six years, she is an “eater”. But with good field management and not being over fed in winter, she too has fabulous hooves.

To go back to the points and make comment on the assertations:

Laminitis can be both chronic & acute. Just because your horse isn’t leaning back in the ‘laminitis stance’ doesn’t mean it hasn’t got laminitis!

Er, yeeeees! Laminitis does have both acute and chronic forms – and recurrent bouts of acute laminitis will often end up being referred to as chronic. Not quite sure why you need to mention the ‘laminitic stance’ or could it be that you are confusing “acute” with “severe”?

Feed your horse grass everyday & your horse WILL show signs of chronic episodes of inflammation.

Er, no. See above.

Laminitis is not just about the feet…it affects the entire body & is now being redefined as a whole system inflammatory response syndrome.

Yes and no. Laminitis is feet and nothing else. However, that which causes laminitis can certainly have an effect on other organs in the body so laminitis itself is not being described as a whole system inflammatory response syndrome, rather it is being listed as one of the symptoms. And of course a laminitic horse is going through compensatory measures to alleviate discomfort and pain – this has a knock on effect on the whole musculoskeletal structure.

A horizontal ring on a hoof equals a laminitic inflammatory bout….the more severe & regular the rings, the more chronic your horse is.

No, not really. Many laminitic horses don’t even display rings – more often than not, it is a localiased deformation of the hoof-wall often developing around mid hoof and usually most prominent in the front quarter. Rings develop from the corium, the growth centre of the hoof. They are often triggered by changes in weather, diet, medication and even location. Frequently the ring will be a thickening in the horn but the underlying white line remains a more or less constant width. However, I would agree that if there is a regular display of rings, then it should be taken seriously – something somewhere is not quite right.

Swellings around the eyes & sheaths, fat pads & laminitic crests are signs your horse is a chronic laminitic.

No. These are signs that your horse could develop laminitis, not that it is laminitic. And just what is a “laminitic crest” – or do you mean EMS and possibly PPID? 

If your horse is footy without shoes, he is having chronic laminitic bouts.

No, if your horse is footy without shoes, it could just be that his digital cushions have atrophied. Not unusual in our Northern climes with soft ground. Get your horse moving on asphalt and this will slowly get better. Another problem is also the owner’s expectations; just when is a horse “footy” and when is it just being sensible and feeling the ground? Many owners describe their horse as being lame when in actual fact, he is learning to feel.

If your horse gets ‘gravel’ up its white lines, it’s because they are separated & weak…your horse has had chronic bouts of laminitis.

Could be. But it can also be because the hoof-wall is projecting below the level of the sole, bowing outwards under pressure and rupturing the weakest part of the white line. Or simply that the horse has been travelling over a lot of tiny stones. The problem is when the gravel starts to penetrate a long way, and if Fusobacterium necrophorum gets on the scene, it will have a field day.

Red lines/spots visible in the hoof walls/soles are very rarely down to ‘bruising’….they are signs of chronic bouts of laminitis…check other hooves for redness in the same areas, you’ll find them!

Oh? Red spots are haemotoma. Bruises. Laminitis rarely causes bleeding (the word says it – laminae: layer, itis: swelling). Yes, you quite possibly will find spots in the same places on the other hooves, especially when they are caused by crossing rough terrain. When red occurs in a stretched white line, this will have its origins in a laminitic problem – often the now loosened laminae in the lower parts of the hoof-wall being ripped apart through pressure on the hoof-wall.

If your horse ‘needs’ shoes because it can’t ‘cope’ without them (hooves DO NOT wear away barefoot) then your horse is a chronic laminitic.

A wildly sweeping statement with no scientific basis whatsoever. Horses that cannot cope without shoes have usually not had the chance to prove themselves because the owner expects instant success and/or that his horse won’t feel the ground, just like when it is shod. Even the best barefoot horse should “feel” what is under its feet and react accordingly. This is what saves its joints and tendons – and essentially its life. And barefoot hooves do wear away – but never to the point a horse cannot walk.

Lamintis (& colic) are the BIGGEST cause for horse DEATH around the world….because most (YES MOST) domestic horses suffer from chronic bouts during their lives.

A questionable statement – severe laminitis certainly results in the death of most sufferers but probably the biggest killer is horses being “broken in” far too young and being shod (many horses don’t even get the chance to be laminitic). But I will concede that 70% to 80% of all domestic horses will have founder (not necessarily full blown laminitis) but this is often the result of poor farriery practice – 90% of farriers not having a clue about the mechanics of the hoof let alone those of the horse.

Interesting point: two days after this poster and 10 points were published, The Laminitis Site, a well respected charity, published photos of a pony recovering from severe laminitis – doing what? Eating grass!

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