Managing a horse prone to laminitis

Managing a horse with laminitis

Managing a horse prone to laminitis can be daunting. By educating yourself on the topic, you give your horse or pony the best chance of returning to full health, alongside minimising the risk of recurrence.

In this article, we look at how to manage a horse or pony prone to laminitis by looking at feed, turnout, exercise and hoof care.

About laminitis

Laminitis is a painful condition characterised by inflammation of the laminae of the foot (hoof). This inflammation and subsequent damage can lead to extreme and crippling pain for a horse or pony. Contact a vet immediately if you see any possible signs of laminitis. Whatever the cause of laminitis, the care and management afterwards follow the same principles.

Laminitis can strike horses and ponies at any point, however, there are periods throughout the year when the risk is heightened, including spring, summer and autumn. Other hormonal changes in the horse can be responsible for the disease, which your vet may discuss testing for with you.


Horses and ponies that have suffered from the condition before need careful management to minimise the risk of recurrence.

Monitoring weight

Regular monitoring of the horse’s weight, alongside condition or fat scoring, is highly recommended. This way you can monitor fluctuations and the emergence of any fat pads. Assessing how much the horse or pony weighs will give valuable information needed to work-out how much hard feed can be fed. A weighbridge is the most suitable piece of equipment to monitor weight, however, a tape can be used but is less accurate and may show inconsistencies between the two.

The BHS offers Horse Health Days, where a fully trained team member will visit the yard, weigh horses and ponies and offer individual advice and plans depending on the results. They will also bring a weighbridge and talk over the various areas needed to gain a better understanding of ‘healthy weight’.

Here are some of the key things you need to know when caring for a horse prone to laminitis.

Suitable feed

There are plenty of horse feeds on the market designed specifically for horses and ponies prone to laminitis. The best feeds will be free from grain, low calorie, low sugar, low starch, and high in fibre. Feeds that are free from grain will naturally be low in starch. Fully balanced fibre sources are also available.

Choose a feed that is fully balanced with vitamins and minerals, as this will make sure your horse gets all they need, especially when on restrictive, or no grazing. Feed at the recommended amounts depending on your horse’s weight, and be careful not to be excessive.

Specialist feeds will be seen with the laminitis trust feed mark, these are feeds approved by the trust following rigorous scrutiny.

Any changes to your horse’s diet should be made slowly. Speak to a nutritionist, helpline and/or your vet to work out what the best route of action would be for your horse.

Restrict grazing

Stabling the horse and preventing them from having access to grass is the only way to ensure you have complete control over what they are eating when suffering from laminitis. This also may be necessary in the short term to help prevent and/or manage laminitis, but it is also recommended to achieve weight loss.

When laminitis has been successfully treated, it is highly likely to recur, therefore a suitable grazing schedule should be drawn up to minimise the grazing time.

Many owners choose to restrict grazing by opting for a smaller sand paddock and offering hay as a replacement for grass when a horse or pony is prone to laminitis. Hay is lower in sugar than haylage. Soaking hay can further reduce the sugar load the horse is exposed to. Due to the high levels of sugar in haylage, this should not be given to a horse or pony either with, or predisposed to laminitis.

Should the horse be turned out in a grass paddock when laminitis has subsided, a grazing muzzle is an option. However, often these come loose when the owner is not there, where the horse will likely gauge available pasture, that is high in sugar until bring in time. Therefore this tactic may cause devastating effects.

Regular hoof trimming 

Recent research identified periods of more than 8 weeks between trimming as a risk factor for laminitis. Whilst this is a correlation, not a causation, it is important that your farrier visits regularly to ensure the conformation of the hooves is not increasing the risk of laminitis.

A good farrier may be the first person to pick up the onset or recurrence of laminitis in your horse.

Increase exercise 

Once the horse is sound and you have been given the go-ahead to exercise again, it is vital to do so. Not only does it burn calories to aid weight management but exercise is also thought to improve insulin sensitivity.

On returning your horse or pony to work, make sure the plan is gradual and reasonable for the level of fitness. If the equine has spent prolonged periods stabled, there is likely an amount of muscle loss and cardiovascular fitness loss.

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