Horse Care Lamitis Alert: Is It a Death Sentence? How to Prevent It
Horse management for those who get slightly over their optimum weight can be a real problem for some owners and carers. We often see slightly overweight and fat horses. There are a number of reasons for this – but an in-depth discussion on all the reasons is for another day.
I have already had three or four emails from equine studies students who are thinking ahead about Spring grass and asking what to do about their grazing. They are aware that with the lovely Spring grass about to burst forth, their horse or pony will soon be getting a little too ’round’. It used to be thought that ponies were more at risk of this but in fact it is now also horses which are regularly seen to be a little too round.
Weighing up the problem
A horse carrying a little more weight than he or she should can so very quickly come down with Laminitis and although this used to be quite a rare disease it is now all too common.
It is a death sentence for many – literally. It happens all too quickly. Look at your horse today. You must decide whether it is at a good weight. If that is the case, can it cope with just a bit more weight without becoming overweight – because that is exactly what is going to happen in the next few weeks.
What is Laminitis?
The inside of the foot is compromised. In laymans language that means it is basically a problem with the internal parts of the hoof which hold the bone in the foot in place. The internal part of the hoof or foot become inflamed. The horse needs to be only a little overweight for these internal parts to become affected and prone to inflammation.
What happens when the internal parts of the hoof are inflamed?
If the inflammation continues, the bone is no longer able to be supported. When this happens because the structure of the internal parts of the foot have literally broken down. The bone itself drops through to the sole of the foot. This physical change can happen remarkably quickly.
How long does it take to affect my horse?
Sometimes if the problem is not spotted immediately. When the symptoms are showing as serious and sudden in onset, it can be within a matter of 24 hours that the bone drops. It seems unbelievably quick but that is what sometimes happens. If therefore, you think there is a problem, it is vital to get the vet out quickly. By quickly, I mean as an emergency call out that very day.
The pain caused is unimaginable to most of us. Just try to imagine yourself and the pain you would feel if you closed your finger tips in a heavy car door. Severely enough to crush the bones in your fingers.
Now imagine having to support the whole weight of your body on the tips of those fingers all day long – pressing down on those bruised and crushed fingers would be absolute and unbelievable agony.
This is what the poor Laminitic horse has to do and cope with. Laminitis is horrendously painful. It is so it is unkind to allow your horse to be put in a position where it might succumb. Many people keep their horses in for some of the day in an attempt to stop them eating so much grass. However there are other and far better and more natural ways to help reduce the grass intake.
What should I do?
First and foremost it is helpful – if not vital – to reduce the amount of grass itself that you have in the field or paddock.
How do I reduce the amount of grass to prevent the intake of too much grass?
Mow it! Quite simple really, isn’t it?
Get that lawnmower out! It might seem a bit mad, but the easiest thing to do is to get the lawn mower out and mow it – that’s right – go and mow the field! For some reason people don’t ever think of simply mowing their grazing and yet it is one of the most simple ways to reduce the grass. It might need doing reasonably regularly if your four legged friends are to remain slimline.
You MUST however, use a grass collector on the mower – but with the wheelbarrow nearby you can empty it regularly as you mow. Now some are able to use a small garden tractor mower for this but not everyone is so lucky. You might have to use your ordinary garden mower.
Mowing in company
If you can’t face doing it alone, try to get some help with it. Your partner or friends might be up for this one if you offer something in the way of a bit of light relief a few bottles or cans of beer or a glass or two of wine.
Be inventive with your mowing
How about getting a few friends together and have a Beer/Pimm’s mowing party followed by a BBQ in the finally freshly mown field. If it is a really big field, could you turn your mowing party into a charity event? What about lawnmower races? A summer long tournament would mean you could have events once a week until the final at the end of the main growing season. Could you organise a sponsored mow? Maybe two people at a time could race against the clock to mow a strip or two of the field to raise money for a horse charity.
If you raised money for a local charity it might encourage even the non horsey people to join in. Whilst others could at the same time race against the clock to collect and empty the collected grass in wheelbarrows. With a little imagination you could make it a fun day out for all the family and the kids could bring their friends too.
The next best thing is to get more horses on the field. The more who are there to eat it the less there is for everyone. Instead of the horses being in separate fields try to introduce more into the same field.
Another alternative is to ask a local farmer if you might borrow a few sheep to graze in with the horse/s. This would have a double whammy effect too. Sheep eat weeds that horses leave alone so you would improve your grazing at the same time.
Next is some form of strip grazing. Historically, most people have done this by putting an electric fence line straight across the field, they then move it every couple of days or so further up the field. The problem with this is that you usually fence off the water trough in the process.
This method requires buckets of water to be taken up to the strip every day which so often get knocked over unless slotted into old car tyres. Strip grazing in this fashion also means that invariably the horse has less area to move around in so doesn’t walk very much. The result of this is that they are getting less exercise, so are not working off any food they are eating.
Be inventive with your strip of grazing too
Try being more inventive with your electric fencing. You may need a little more fencing this way but it works and makes life a whole lot more interesting for the horse too. Instead of straight lines across your field why not fence off a small square shaped section in one corner or even towards the middle with an extension down to the water trough – rather like a wide passage way. This means the horse has to walk to reach water so works off a bit of food each time.
The square can be moved over to the side and around the field. Yet it is still possible to arrange a passage way to the trough even when the square is in the opposite corner. Another way to do this is to form an inside fence with your electric fencing all around the field a couple of meters inside the perimeter. This way the horse once more has access to the water trough at all times and has to walk part of the perimeter of the field to reach it. There are other shapes which might use less fencing.
Try a simple U shape from the trough out into the field. You can change the shape of the U regularly yet still keep the water trough at one end. A U shape could retain the water trough as its base, and gradually move across the field in the shape of an opening fan.
Alternatives to hay in the stable
If the horse comes in and has hay in his/her stable then you can always substitute some of the hay with oat or barley straw. If they are older they may struggle with chewing it though so you might need to ensure the teeth are in good condition and have them rasped if necessary. If however, the straw is not being digested properly it could cause digestive problems such as colic.
Check their droppings to make sure there are no recognisable pieces of straw which have not been digested properly. Soak the food to make it easier to eat. Change to one of the proprietary chopped hay/straw feeds suitable for older horses if this is the case. Soaking hay will reduce the nutritional content whilst still providing bulk fibre food so this is useful if they have to stand in.
Calories or Carbs
During Spring the average leisure horse is getting loads of calories from the grass so probably doesn’t need any hard feed at all. In fact if you ARE giving hard feed make sure it isn’t a high energy one. If you really MUST feed calories – it is perhaps because they are working hard – e.g. 2 hours schooling & jumping etc every day.
Only if they are working that hard would you need to feed those calories – unless they have been ill and the vet suggested it. If not working that hard change to a feed which will keep them laid back and full of fibre – not one which is full of those lovely bits and bobs of energy giving cereals.
Next on the list of keeping weight down is exercise. Now most of us must have heard that we should exercise and that walking a certain length or amount of time every day helps keep our weight down. Why not consider this for your horse.
Equine Power walking You may also have heard of power walking to get fit. This, surprisingly is also something the horse needs too. It turns out that it isn’t trotting or cantering which will keep the weight down – (that is going to use up carbohydrates, but it is calories we need to reduce). It seems that it is walking we need to get them to do – and briskly at that.
Think of it as their equine power walk. If you want to get a bit fitter yourself you can lead the horse and literally do a bit of power walking as you do.
What is Power walking
Powerwalking for humans does not mean just walking faster though. To do it properly you need to keep your elbows bent and working in the same way as they would if you were running and moving those elbows backwards and forwards as you walk. Think of holding a wine glass in each hand as you do this (an empty one!). Don’t take big long strides. Forget about your legs and work on pumping your arms back and forth. The heart rate goes up and the calories get burned up more quickly.
Try it just for a few yards as you walk out to bring your horse in from the field tomorrow and you will see how it might help. Instead of hacking out and doing lots of trots and canters in an attempt to get the weight off your horse/s, think more about working in walk – but walking briskly.
Ride them in a brisk walk in the school every day before going out on a brisk walking hack. Alternatively lead them around the school or field if you can’t get out. It is a fantastic time to do some ground work and exercises with your horse.
Be inventive again – this time with your exercises
Whether you are riding in the school or leading, make it interesting – put down some cones to bend in and out of. Make a few pole shapes to walk over and between – use it as an exercise in bending and suppling. It is also an excellent time to bond with your horse.
Use it well to the benefit both of you. You can kill more than one bird with these exercises.