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Equine Stabling & Nutrition: What you need to know about Laminitis

Thursday 5th June, 2014

With the welcome return of warmer weather, horses across the UK are starting to enjoy sunny days turned out in the field, however for many horse owners the rich new pasture can bring with it the threat of laminitis. Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae of the hoof and if left untreated laminitis can lead to the coffin bone rotating away from the hoof wall causing irreparable damage and extreme discomfort to the horse. Rapid diagnosis of the condition along with regular stabling in a large well-ventilated stable and careful diet management can make a huge difference to your horse’s comfort and wellbeing.

There are several factors that contribute towards the occurrence and recurrence of laminitis, with nutrition being one of the primary areas to watch. Carbohydrate overload is one of the common causes, where a horse is fed excess oats or grain, eats excessive quantities of grass and does not receive adequate exercise due to the busy lives of owners and lack of stimulation in the field or stable. Carbohydrate sources produce sugars and starch, and an excess can accumulate in the gut increasing the intestinal tract pH and eventually resulting in an inflammatory response. The inflammatory response is not specific to the gut and can travel anywhere in the body and, in the case of laminitis, it can affect the laminae of the feet. Because the laminae are incredibly small and sit within a rigid structure they have no room to swell without adversely affecting the structures around them, hence the extreme pain and discomfort experienced by laminitic horses. Lush pastures are the most common trigger for a laminitic episode, particularly when transitioning horses from their winter stabling routine to being turned out in the warmer spring weather. Spring grass is rich in fructan which can increase the likelihood of a bout of laminitis.

A horse is never happier than when they get the chance to stretch, roll and relax in a well maintained field with its stable mates, and in order to provide the perfect turn out paddock for your equine friend the unwritten rule is to have an acre per horse, or to have enough land that you can section off for rotation purposes. High quality mobile field shelters are the perfect solution for yards that need to rotate their paddocks or restrict grazing for laminitic horses and ponies as they can be moved from field to field without compromising their strength or durability.

Of course, very few laminitic horses and ponies will be able to enjoy the benefits of 24 hour turn out, and many spend a great deal of the year stabled as owners try to manage the condition. However there are ways to allow them the freedom of turning out whilst still managing their diet, such as restricting grazing to a few hours during the spring months, especially when night temperatures are below 5°C followed by sunny days, as this is when the grass is at its richest.

If your horse must be kept stabled on a daily basis it is worth investing in a large purpose built stable designed with your horse in mind. Integrated fresh drinking water troughs, windows looking out on to a busy yard and specially constructed equine treat balls within the stable itself can be a great way to keep boredom at bay. Also try to ensure that you keep your horse’s exercise levels up through regular riding or lungeing to maintain their mental and physical stimulation and fitness.

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