The Trials and Tribulations of Laminitis

With winter out the way and spring now sprung, summer is upon us, shining into stables and giving your paddocks a new lease of life. However, as every horse owner is aware this time of year is a challenge if your horse or pony is prone to laminitis.

Unfortunately laminitis can affect all breeds of horse, in actual fact it can affect every type of equidae. It can be extremely painful, which means it is imperative to know the causes, signs and best ways to treat it.

The Causes

The inflammation of the laminae can be triggered by a number of things, including trauma to the hoof through working or jumping on hard ground, failure to cleanse placenta after foaling, Cushing’s disease or as a side effect of corticosteroid medication.

That said, the vast majority of cases are linked to over eating and obesity.  Research shows that 80% of cases are preventable – so be alert of the first signs of laminitis. A quick response from you may avert a disaster.

The Signs

Spotting laminitis as soon as possible is key to treating your horse or pony efficiently and effectively, so you really need to know them.

Watch out for signs of stiffness or looking slightly pottery along with signs of discomfort – perhaps shifting weight from limb to limb. Sweating and rapid breathing can also be signs of pain so also check for an increased digital pulse.

The Treatment

If you spot any of these signs in your horse or pony it’s crucial that you stable them immediately on a very deep bed, give plenty of high fibre forage, and call the vet.

There are then a number of treatments that your vet might suggest, all of which will need a lot of time and attention from you. It’s important to follow your vet’s recommendations thoroughly in order to restore your equine’s health.

The Prevention

Of course, prevention is preferable to treatment and there are a number of precautions you can take to try and keep laminitis at bay.

Weight control is crucial when it comes to preventing the disease as over eating and obesity are common factors, so try to control your horse or pony’s weight throughout the year. Restrict their intake of soluble carbohydrates, starches, sugars and fructans. Fructans are a type of sugar that passes in to the hind gut undigested which can lead to a starch overload and are particularly high in grass during the spring and autumn, and on frosty grass – hence the increased cases of laminitis during those months. Use a grazing muzzle to limit grass intake and avoid gorging and/or strip graze.

Control the risks. Throughout the year feed your horse and pony a diet that is high in fibre. Avoid cereal mixes with a high sugar and high carbohydrate content and starchy straights such as oats, maize and barley; also steer clear of molassed chaffs and sugary stable licks.

The most important thing of all is to remember you know your horse or pony better than anyone, so make sure you make the time to visit them every day so that you can spot any signs.

Happy Hacking!

Carole White, Alan’s Ark 

Seasonal advice concerning hair loss and rubbing in the saddle area

Why do you get rubs and/or areas of hair loss under the saddle or girth?

Before you assume it has been caused by a poorly fitting saddle or illness, there are a few basic checks you should consider.

Do not over-tighten your girth.

The girth is designed for your horses’ comfort, not for you to fasten too tight! Yes, it is there to hold the saddle on the horse, but it should do this by holding the saddle firm and minimising movement without restricting the ability of the horse to expand its lungs sufficiently.

Make sure your saddle is positioned correctly

Your saddle should be positioned just behind the point of scapula. If it is placed too far forwards, the foreleg will be unable to move correctly leading to lack of gait quality and a short choppy stride. If the saddle is too long, pressure can be put onto the weakest part of the back. Similarly, if the saddle is too short for the rider, it will put weight onto a small surface area, putting a lot of strain onto the horse’s spine. All these can cause rubs leading to areas of hair loss and/or pressure sores.

Check all the stitching on the saddle, numnah, girth etc

Sometimes just the seam of a numnah can cause discomfort to your horse. Make sure the edges of the numnah or saddlecloth clear the edge of the saddle panel, as harsh nylon bindings found on most numnah’s and pads trapped under the edge of the saddle panel will definitely cause problems.

Make sure numnah’s and pads are not only clean and dry, but sit under the saddle without folds or wrinkles. A small fold under the saddle will treble the thickness of the numnah in a very small area, a definite pressure point!

Also consider the washing detergent you use, horses have been known to have allergic reactions to biological and budget products.

Take a look at your tack cleaning regime

We experience many cases in our workshop where, in particular, saddle panels and girths have obviously only experienced cursory attempts at cleaning leading to a build-up of sweat and dirt on the areas that come into contact with the horse, leaving a sandpaper like texture on the surface.

Is extra padding needed?

After winter, particularly one such as we have just experienced, horses will run up lighter, and although your saddle is still fitting well, an extra half pad sheepskin may be all that is required while your horse returns to form.

Modern numnahs are designed to grip the horse and saddle to minimise movement. Sometimes this in itself can make hair loss and rubbing worse. Try sticking a piece of smooth polythene under the numnah with double sided tape, or consider replacing the numnah with a thin cotton one until the problem is resolved.

The act of fitting a saddle is an attempt to provide a fixed platform on a moving, living animal; this will always be a compromise and friction will occur. It is our responsibility as owners to ensure that we do not miss the small things that can cause problems. In extreme cases we have to accept that the only solution is to stop riding the horse until the injuries are cured. Some horses will take any amount of their owner ‘overlooking’ small failures to notice possible problems. Some horses have very sensitive skin that will react to the slightest assault. Most horses are somewhere in between and will have no reaction one day to an irritation but a massive reaction the next day.

By following basic care and using a qualified saddle fitter to have regular (i.e. twice a year) checks on your saddle, you can be sure you are doing all you can to maximise your horse’s comfort and well-being while he or she is been ridden.

Tom Day, TDS Saddlers