Why Some Horses Don’t Get Laminitis


Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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10 Responses

  1. Jürgen Grande says:

    Hi there!

    The clinical appearance of lamitis being properly described, the biochemical process has not been, yet. Robert Bowker, Chris Pollitt (et al.) have revealed lots of new insight, but research is not at an end at all.
    20 years ago proteins were considered to be the triggering factor. Meanwhile fructan bears the same role, but some people say there’s zero evidence. Latest investigations pinpoint inulin, a short-chain sugar in broad-leaf plants and thistles.
    In my humble belief there can’t be a mono-causal reason for laminitis (i.e. true laminitis, not to confuse with mechanical founder). My own experiences over the years with horses tell me a very clear strategy:
    – Keep your horse unshod
    – Apply proper hoof care (my personal recommendation: follow Pete Ramey’s notions)
    – Don’t put your horse in a box
    – Make sure your horse has mates and companions of his own species
    – Be a good human companion #1 (no stress, don’t rush, no adrenalin)
    – Be a good human companion #2 (patience, empathy, appropriate communication)
    – Be a good human companion #3 (knowledge aka savvy)
    – Don’t “de-worm“ blindly (make a lab exam to show whether necessary)
    – Don’t overdo vaccs (often no reason for it)
    – Don’t overfeed your horse (if he’s kept somehow “naturally” he’ll take what he needs)

    In a nutshell: keep your horse as near to feral conditions as possible. That’s all.

    My horses eat grass all year long. Even in the “dangerous” months of winter when short grass is “stressed” underneath frosty snow layers, high in sugars. My horses additionally get 24/7 hay in nets, little supplements (based on alfalfa), brewer’s yeast and fresh garlic. I don’t feed any grain.
    There’s no case of laminitis yet. Concerning standard diseases (abscesses, colics etc.) ditto.

    I think Casie is on the right track.
    And she’s not alone.

    Kind regards
    Jürgen (from Germany)

  2. Jenny Gomez says:

    Hi Casie,

    I am a hoof care specialist (barefoot trimmer) in Northern California. I read this article with great interest as I am experiencing a number of horses on my roster that have “Spring laminitis.” I have been researching everything I can find to figure out why some horses end up with it and others don’t. I have situations where four (or more) horses all live in the same environment and two or more will be affected. Given that these horses all get the same feed, grazing opportunities, ability to move freely, and live fairly natural and stress free lifestyles, why is it that only some are affected? Most of these horses only have the variation in the spring grass as a component. It’s possible that their mineral intake is out of balance, but again, all of the horses get the same treatment. Any insight into this for me would be ever so appreciated! Just hoping to fit a piece of the puzzle together!

    • Casie says:

      Hi Jenny,
      I certainly don’t have all the answers, but my guess would be that individual horses handle toxins and stressors differently. Some horses don’t seem to be as affected by vaccines, chemical dewormers, chemicals sprayed on pastures, etc., while others are. Are the horses who developed laminitis the older ones in the herd, by chance? I’ve had more vaccine reactions and immune issues in my older horses, so I would think they would also be more susceptible to laminitis.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Clissa says:

    What an intriguing issue laminitis & founder are & as usual Cassie, you have given us a very thought provoking article.

    I have had personal & ongoing founder & laminitis experience during the last 10yrs.
    I moved to this 16acre creek flat property 10yrs ago from a 40ac rough & hilly property where my horses roamed free in all seasons with minimal supplementary feeding & kept barefoot even when showing & working.
    I had mostly quarter horses with a couple older Arab/Qh cross types, all very old genetics including a very old QH stallion & his progeny.
    As soon as I moved here I began to see hoof changes in the form of heat that progressively migrated down the foot as it grew until the whole foot was hot. I was still not supplementary feeding until we were in drought whereupon the grass quickly disappeared & I had to buy in hay & processed feeds.
    The oldest horses were euthanatized due to extreme age leaving me with just 3 teenage horses on the 16ac property rotating through 3 x 5ac paddocks while the remaining 1.5ac is house yard & orchard.
    One QH foundered completely & I was lucky to save him. He now has no digital cushions so is unrideable but still a good paddock mate but I have to be very careful with his feed management.
    The others osculate between occasional mild laminitic episodes & sore feet but also show sugar related body scores & fat deposits even though I rarely feed supplementary feeds these days & don’t fill troughs (unless the dams run dry) causing them to have to walk to the dam a few times daily which gives them some exercise at least, nor do I fertilize the pasture, instead rotating them through the various paddocks.
    I think my older arab & QH genetics meant they were not as highly bred as the QH gelding that foundered because he was not one of my breeding. He has far more modern genetics & cant handle sugars at all. He also has a very swollen sheath that many people are now associating with a build up of sugars in the grass.
    So I’m tending to think it might be the highly bred horses that are now more susceptible to sugars because we have selectively bred for bigger muscles, better doers, different body shapes, smaller feet, etc.
    The wild ponies still carry their old genetics. I’ll bet if some young highly bred ponies were added to that herd, laminitis & founder would soon be apparent in those particular ponies & their offspring.
    Also the modern grain & hay has been selectively bred to be a superior feed to fatten cows not be a healthy feed for horses.
    We are being sold processed horse feed concoctions with more oil, energy & protein so our horses don’t loose weight, can work harder & breed better, grow quicker & live longer.
    I think those are all ingredients for disaster for our poor long suffering horse buddies.

    • Casie says:

      Thanks for your comment, Clissa. Sounds like you’ve definitely struggled with this issues. A side note–the pony herd mentioned here are all descendants from domestic Shetlands and similarly sized ponies bought at local auctions, so their breeding would be the same as any of our domestic ponies.

  4. Cathy Dee says:

    We have major issues with laminitis in New Zealand.
    The rise of large scale dairy farming and its associated duo-culture of rye/clover combined with excessive fertilising of land has created a perfect storm of issues for horses – not just laminitis.
    We believe that these issues are due to massive mineral imbalances as much if not more than sugars in the grass.
    High nitrates and the ongoing high potassium/low sodium inherent in vegetative grasses. Clover and other legumes are also major perpetrators in our experience.
    We now keep our own horses on either hay only in large dry lots of tracks or when the season permits, in large paddocks of old style mature grasses, fed 2 feeds a day containing plenty of salt and high spec minerals which change in what we add depending on the weather, the season and what the grass is doing.

  5. Mary says:

    Check out http://www.equinemedsurg.com.
    Dr. Reilly saved my small 26 yr old pony who has EMS, PPID, and liver disease and only asked me to use his products. He diagnosed him by my explaining via his website what exactly was going on and gave me a strict protocol which I follow. It included a ration balancer, Heiro (his product), ThyroL,white salt, grass hay in small holed nets so he never runs out. The pony can now graze a few hours a day and is actually asking to trot up hills when I hand walk him. It is all spelled out on his website. One of our big issues was too much iron due to well water, what he was eating in the paddocks and the “red” salt. Worth a look. I was desperate and he came to the rescue.

    • Casie says:

      Thanks for sharing, Mary. I’ve used Heiro with my old IR horse when she experienced a laminitis episode in one hoof (she has an old injury which has resulted in coffin bone rotation in that hoof). I think it’s a good product. Glad to hear that your horse is better now.

  6. Terri Brady says:

    I had a heard of 7 horses in KS that lived on 625 acres year round. Grass is all they ate ever, no hay no grain. You just went out and got one and rode and rode. They were very healthy and happy. Winter still provided enough grass dead or alive under the snow. One horse I used for endurance riding. Not once ever did I have hoof problems or an illness. Years later I move to Southern CA in 1986 and was shocked and I mean SHOCKED to see how horses live out here. Penned up like prisoners. The warden provided every meal, all the water, hopefully shade and protection and hopefully vet and hoof care….sometimes the manure would be removed, but flies were everywhere. They lived in filth and constant mental stress. I saw angry horses and ones that had just given up everywhere I looked. It broke my heart and still does that people think this is ok. I bought 2 1/2 acres and is a drylot with 4 now down from 9. I had to learn how to feed them! With great peoples’ help I settled into a schedule and diet that works. Never hoof problems and never colic. Choke yes once. I keep the lot clean and waters clean every day before I go to bed. It is alot of work but knowing they are happy and healthy makes me a proud mama. I see herd behavior everyday. Head mare says it’s ok the sleep and the other three sleep. Then one gets up and the leader lays down. They run and play. They groom each other and all those things. Yet right across the road the horses live in hell.

  7. Clissa says:

    Terry Brady, I feel your pain. It is terrible watching the way many people think horses are mobile ornaments or ridable statues all to be kept in confinement.
    One thing I would add is that there are places where horses are kept where they eat grass that perhaps they shouldn’t be forced to eat because it’s too sweet or otherwise unsuitable.
    In nature, the herd probably wouldn’t stay more than a short time on that pasture before moving on to somewhere better. But when humans buy a piece of land that is what the horses are then forced to eat whether it is the right type of pasture or not. So those horses’ health suffers and eventually, it comes out in their feet. Same goes for the types of feed horses are fed while living in isolation (stables, pens, etc) and living under sedentary conditions.

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