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Horse Health and Welfare

Your Horse's Health by Patricia Clark

Laminitis - A Very Complicated illness
Laminitis or Founder is inflammation of the laminae of the foot which is the soft tissue that attach the coffin bone or the foot to the hoof wall.  (note the hoof is the outer wall while the foot is all of the inner structures). The inflammation is extremely painful and if enough damage occurs the coffin bone can separate from the hoof wall, rotate and even drop through the bottom of the foot.  Laminitis is crippling and can be fatal in sever cases. 
Once a horse has had laminitis, they may have an occurance.  This is why prevention is extremely important.
What are the symptoms of Laminitis?
  • The horse appears to be lame in one or all four feet.  Generally the forelimbs show lameness although it may affect all four feet.
  • The hoof wall is warm to the touch.
  • The horse may rock back on its hind legs to take the weight off of the afflicted front feet.
  • The horse is prone to laying down more than usual to relieve the pain from standing on their feet.
  • Digital pulses (found on the back of the fetlock) are rapid and strong.
If the inflammation has been going on for some time and structural changes can be seen on an x-ray,  
  • Laminitic rings will appear on the hooves corresponding to each episode.  These are often called stress rings because they can also show up after other stressful incidents, such as bruising, illness, and abrupt changes in feed.
  • The horse may have restricted movement in its front legs and can often be seen rocking back on its hinds legs.  This is called a laminitic stance.
  • The hoof shape may look like a dish and the toe become long.
  • You may see a bulge in the sole of the foot if the coffin bone as rotated.
As a horse owner you know that all or some of these symptoms can present themselves for a number of different reasons.  Lameness can be caused from a strain, bruise and other injuries. 
How do you know it is laminitis?
If your horse shows several of the symptoms above, call the vet!  You vet will be able to determine through tests and x-rays if it is laminitis.  Again, this can be a fatal disease and the faster it is treated the better chance you have that your horse will have a good outcome.
What are the causes?
 The causes for laminitis are many and can but the number one cause is being overweight and developing what is called Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) which put the horse at greater risk to develop laminitis.  EMS or insulin resistance is almost always related to your horse being overweight.  
Sometimes laminitis is brought on by a stone bruise, being trimmed too short, or another injury to the hoof.  

Treating Laminitis
Treating laminitis can be a protracted process.  It may take months.  First, you need to put your horses in a deeply bedded stall to insure he will not continue to put pressure on the hoof.  The internal soft tissue of the hoof becomes inflammed and softens with swelling.  As the structure breaks down the coffin bone, which is the primary support for the hoof may begin to rotate.  Normally the coffin bone is parallel to the ground and shaped like the external hoof wall. As it rotates it begins to point downward and if not protected can protrude through the sole of the hoof.  There is nothing left to do but to but to put your horse down.
 Have your vet take x=-rays
This will tell you if the coffin bone is rotated and to what degree.  Sometimes through cautious and informed trimming the hoof can be saved and the coffin bone and it's supporting structured can be re-aligned.  I cannot stress enough how important this is to do earlier rather than later.

Keep your horse quiet and as pain free as possible.  Laminitis is an extraordinary painful disease for your horse.  Also remember that once your horse has suffered with laminitis the possibility of this happening again is very high so once he/she has been healed you must now follow very strict preventive measures to insure that it doesn't happen again.

Never feed high sugar treats,  grains, or sweet feed and your horse will not be able to be out on pasture except for very short periods of time, maybe with a muzzle, and NOT during times such as spring bloom, early summer (especially if it is raining) and during the fall to winter transition around the time frost sets in.  This is the time when the sugar contents are very high.

EMS and its friend laminitis is NOT curable but manageable.  Your vet may put your horse on Metformin and/or Thryroid L.  Metformin is usually a lifetime regiman where Thryoid L is sometimes used to help take of the weight.  (Studies are still out on the later).

Obviously the best thing to do for your horse is prevention!  Watch the weight and don't give your horse sugary treats.  We at Serenity, never give treats or hand feed our horses.  It is just a bad habit and horses can develop dangerous behaviors, such as biting, from doing so.

 Colic - Our horse companions number one killer - Usually Fall and Winter months are when we see the most colics but this summer and it's unpredictable weather changes, hot days and cold nights and inconsistent hay nutrition, colic has been at an all time high.
What is Colic?  Colic is basically a belly ache, however, there are a number of different reasons for the belly ache and thus a number of different types of colic.  There is gas colic, impaction colic, intestinal twists and on rare occassions, a herniation of the peritoneum, the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen and covers most of the abdominal organs, allowing the intestine to fall through.  Some colics are much for dangerous than others, such as a twist or impaction but all are potentially lethal.

Signs of Colic

Kicking or Continually Looking at Sides

Sweating without Hard Exercise

Decreased Appetite

Glassy Eyes

Laying down, Getting up without Shaking Off

Pawing at the Ground

Biting at Belly

Stretched Out Stance

Increased Heart Rate

Increased Respiratory Rate

Slow Refresh Rate

What Should I Do?
Your veterinarian is going to ask you all of these questions in order to determine if they need to come out, take your horse to Pilchuck or another emergency hospital, or if you can medicate your horse with Banamine, walk them or any combination of the above.  (Ask your vet for a tube of Banamine to keep on hand).
Check your horses heart rate, pulse, and refresh rate. Is he/she showing any of the signs listed above. (If you don't know how to do this, take our class on basic diseases and learn how to get a base line on your horse).  Take note of all the signs and CALL YOUR VET!   
If your horse is down, get them up and start to walk them.  Do not let them roll.  If it is a Gas Colic the intestine will be more likely to float and it is possible for another length of intestine to get caught or twisted causing the intestine to die.  The only cure for a necrotic intestine is surgery or euthanasia.  Do NOT offer them any food
How Can I Prevent Colic?
There is no prevention for colic but you can greatly decrease the chances by following some these simple guidelines. 
Change feed slowly over a two week period, if you feed off the ground, give your horse Sand Clear, Psyllium or some other high fiber product that cleans out their system of sand and dirt once or twice a year, if you have an older horse who has difficulty chewing hays, soak the hay in water before feeding or change the feed to a mash of supplements, rice bran or beet pulp, oil, (no corn oil it causes inflammation) and pelleted feed. if we are experiencing wide changes in temperatures, 85+ degrees in the day and 60's at night, bring your horse in or blanket them at night.
Most importantly, check on your horse daily, watch for the early signs of colic, if you are suspicious call your vet.  The quicker you respond to the possiblilty of colic the greater your chances are that your horse will survive.

Keeping your Horse Hydrated


Water makes up between 62 – 68% of a horse’s body weight and is essential for life.  On average, a 1000 Ib horse will drink 10 to 12 gallons of water a day and more when it is hot. Lactating mares or horses that are working hard may drink up to 4 times as much or 40 to 48 gallons a day.

Horses can only go for a few days without water and become dangerously dehydrated if they lose 8- 10% of their natural body water. Therefore, horses should not be deprived of water for more than 4 hours.

Water is also an important part of digestion.  Forages that horses' eat get mixed with saliva to make a mash that can be easily swallowed.  Horses produce up to 10 gallons or 85Ib of saliva a day.  Without adequate water consumption, proper digestion cannot take place and may lead to colic, the number one killer of horses. Even a slightly dehydrated horse is at higher risk for impaction colic.

Dehydration  It is important for horse owners to encourage their horse to drink when they are at risk for dehydration.  You can encourage your horse to drink by adding electrolytes or apple juice to their water to make it more palatable.  Horses tend to drink less when it is cold.  Adding warm water to their trough will encourage them to drink more.


Water may be temporarily withheld in certain circumstances such as after sedation or when a horse is cooling down after hard work.  However, a horse should be offered a few swallows every 5 – 10 minutes while cooling down. Other than during these times make sure that your horse always has free access to clean, fresh water.


Subluxation - Your Weight and Balance
As big as our equine companions are so are they fragile. They are quadrupeds and their spines are subject to different loads than upright human spines. It doesn't take a great deal of force to misalign your horses spine causing subluxation and therefore structural and pathological changes that can compromise your horses neural integrity. This in turn can cause pain and changes in your horses performance and behavior. Horses don't think like humans. They live in the now and when they are hurting they try to let us know. Swiching their tail, kicking out or leaning to one side while under saddle are a few of the indicators. A tender back when you run your hand down their spine is another.
Be aware of your horses fragility. A horse can carry between 18% and 20% of its weight comfortably. More than that and you are going to harm your horse. Tape your horse or take it to a veterinary hospital to get an accurate weight then do the math. If you horse weighs 1000 Ibs it can comforably carry 180 to 200 Ibs including tack. The size of your horse's cannon bones is an indicator whether it can carry the lower or higher end of the results.
Learn to be a balanced rider. If you are riding out of balance, therefore putting 10lbs more of your body weight on one side of the horse, the actual weight on that side for the horse is 100lbs. This can cause your horse to compensate by leaning to one side to balance your weight and over time the muscles will pull on the spine causing sublixation. Learn to be a light-handed balanced rider from a qualified trainer. It is difficult for us to determine if we are balanced without other eyes. Ask someone to video you riding your horse. If you horse is tracking to the side, you are not balanced.
If your horses behavior changes under saddle don't ignore it. Find a competent certified equine Chiropractor or Massage Therapist to evaluate and care for your horse. Paying attention to your horses clues will help you to develop a long healthy relationship with your equine companion.