Preventing Laminitis

Aside from restricting grazing, other anti-laminitis measures include:

  • Avoiding sugar spikes, feed concentrates in small meals and make sure bellies are full of roughage before turnout – grass has a much faster rate of passage through an empty gut, and a sudden influx can upset the bacteria of the hindgut. Hungry horses also consume grass at a considerably faster rate!
  • Providing a consistent habitat for gut flora, they don’t like surprises and if they die in large quantities it can cause laminitis – this happens when a feed is abruptly added or removed. Make changes gradually – for sensitive individuals this means gradually introducing different batches of hay and different fields.
  • Providing supplementary magnesium.
  • Increasing exercise, this increases insulin-sensitivity and reduces hormone-releasing fat deposits.
  • Maintaining good gut health, with plenty of roughage, dentist checks, and maintaining a low worm burden.

Bum Cheeks

That’s how one owner described her horses frog infection! Untreated infection can cause a deep cleft right down to the sensitive corium, and if allowed to extend between the heel bulbs it can create a condition called sheared heels where the two sides can be moved independently (the photo above shows a severe case where most of the frog has been eaten away).

Rife hoof infections generally stem from leakage of serum and blood products into the tissue, typically as a result of inflammation associated with high carb diets. Right now we’re seeing an unusual spate of infection following all the recent rain, the moisture has softened the build up of material that would normally have steadily exfoliated off but was retained in the dry conditions.

Treatment of the external symptoms is simple and effective but once its muddy cleaning and drying is much more of a chore, so best to clear up infection before more autumn rain.

First dispense with anything bought from a tack shop, and anything you wouldn’t use on your own skin. Most commercial products and the old favourites like iodine damage healthy tissue creating a habitat for reinfection. The local chemist has everything you need in the baby care section…

Clean the sulcus gently but thoroughly with a solution of 1 cap milton to 1 gallon of water, you might need a syringe to squirt it into the depths, and especially to get under heart bar shoes if your unfortunate enough to have them. Dry carefully, a strip of towel is useful to pull through, it will remove any leftover crud too. Once absolutely dry slather with sudocreme. If there is room then coat strips of gauze with sudocreme and pack very carefully into the sulcus, or use Red Horse Hoof Stuff which does a fab job – but prepare the piece before you need it as it’s a nightmare to get out of the tub!

While the sulcus is growing out, and fresh tissue growing in, stay out of sand schools – if you’ve ever had sand in your pants you’ll know why!

Central Heating

Horses need more energy to maintain body heat when the temperature falls below approximately -1º (in dry, still conditions, with a nice thick coat and in good condition).

It’s been below freezing for days now but before putting on thicker rugs be sure to turn up the central heating…

Digesting feed produces heat and especially digesting fibre, the activity of the microbes in the hindgut is an important source of heat. If your horses teeth aren’t so good there are short chops and soakable fibre feeds that can replace hay, the latter with the advantage they introduce liquid at the same time.

There are various soakable feeds on the market to suit both high and low calorie needs. Speedi-beet is very versatile as it has as much energy as most “mix’s”, but only 5% carbs. A tiny quantity swells to provide a decent sized meal to appease a good doer, but a larger amount can be fed to increase condition. Straight alfalfa feeds and grass pellets are also good soaked, though alfalfa doesn’t suit all horses and the carb content of grass pellets should be checked.

Of course movement generates heat too…

Keeping Your Finger on The Pulse

With digital pulses no news is good news – a healthy hoof will have no pulse or a barely discernible tic, a stronger pulse generally indicates inflammation. Every horse is an individual, so get to know your horses typical pulse. Some find it easier to locate the point on the fetlock as demonstrated here, others on the pastern.

Whenever you can try locating the pulses of different horses, so you develop an idea of what feels weak and what feels strong.

Typically professionals use a scale of 0 – 5, this is how I describe the scale:

0 – no pulse discernible
1 – like the beat of a butterflies wing
2 – a butterfly on steroids
3 – between two and four!
4 – you can see your fingers move on top of the pulsing artery, I’d class this as bounding, like a small kangaroo.
5 – like an angry kangaroo, definitely a “bounding” pulse, you can sometimes see the pulse with the naked eye before you even touch the skin

Inflammation can be a sign of an abscess, quite likely if its only raised on one foot, however if a pair or all four feet are affected then laminitis is a strong possibility. Bear in mind however hot weather and exercise can also result in raised pulses.

Knowledge is Power

Whether you’re dealing with your vet, EP, chiropractor, osteopath, physio or dentist, don’t be intimidated by their experience, take full advantage of their knowledge, ask questions and keep asking until you understand! Most equine professionals will gladly take the time to explain to you the how’s and why’s of their treatment for your horse, but it’s up to you to take a proactive approach to horse management and ask! It’s the very best way to learn.

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

Horses spend between 16 to 18 hours grazing; whether chomping on hay or nibbling on grass your horse will consume on average 2.5% of its own body a day, no mean feat when you consider the average horse is about half a ton! But have you ever stopped to wonder what your horse is actually eating? Grass roots draw up nutrients from the soil to grow strong stalks and leaves, but just because you grass is lush and green doesn’t necessarily mean it’s providing your horse with the right balance of minerals. If the pasture is deficient or heavy in one or other mineral then the grass will reflect that imbalance. While horses can tolerate a wide range of mineral imbalances with no obvious outward signs many of the nagging horse issues for granted as ‘usual’ in horses such as sun-bleaching, tendon/ligament/joint stiffness, immune system imbalances, muscle and nerve problems, poor fertility, bone problems, and hoof issues can all have a nutritional component.

Before you rush off to the feed merchant and reach for the pretty label on the shelf its worthwhile investing in a bit of detective work to find out what you’re up against. ForagePlus offers an analysis service of both your pasture and hay/haylage. This is a small investment which will save you in the long run, benefit your pasture and most importantly your horse. A field analysis offers you a road map to your horse’s basic diet and allows you to adjust your feed plan accordingly. If you need a little help digesting all this data they also offer a great personalised feed plan to help you keep your horse in top form.

Kathy Watts has a wealth of information on her site SaferGrass on pasture and nutritional management of horses for both the prevention and treatment of laminitis, carbohydrate intolerance, insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, cushing’s and cushingoid in horses as well as practical guides to help horse owners ensure they do what can to prevent their development.

Stepping Ahead From Serious Injury

Anyone who has spent a fair amount of time around horses will know they have a nose for trouble, they are always coming up with new ways of giving us minor heart attacks whether rolling against the fence in a 23 acre pasture or auditioning for a place on the Olympic gymnastics team by managing to get a hoof through the noseband of their head collar when your back is turned outside the tack room.

They have a near gravitational attraction to mishaps. Most can, thankfully, be taken care of at home, and those rare more serious misadventures sorted out by a skilled vet. But there are instances of truly catastrophic injury, when you and your vet may step back and wonder what do next. For those situations when hope is slim, we highly recommend getting in touch with Dr Jolly of Step Ahead Farm, his site is not for the sensitive (or when eating your lunch) but his work in the treatment of extreme equine injury to help horses heal and return to a functional life is something to be commended.

This US vet offers a simple and easy to implement concept for healing, and his essentials for the treatment of injuries are a must in the first aid kit of all yards and barns no matter how small. Even for horses with long term injuries that were either left untreated or where treatment has been unsuccessful there is a chance that his methods for revitalising old injuries could be that answer to helping your horse return to a health active life.

This is one site we really recommend you bookmark, and one we have given to our own vets, hopefully you and your horses will never need his help but should the worse happen his consultation could be what you and your vet need to help your horse heal.

Ride Local

Whether you’re new to an area or just wanting to get to know your home patch a bit better, the Ordnance Survey now offers customised OS maps centred on any post code in the UK.

This is a great way to see what is located within riding of the centre of the universe (aka your stable yard). Simply pop in the post code of the desired map centre, pick your map scale and format (folded for fitting into saddle bags, or flat for the tack room wall), design your own cover and they offer free delivery to. It’s a great excuse to add some adventure to your hacking, so tack up and explore those green spaces around your yard.

What’s all the Fuss about Magnesium?

By Jayne Hunt, Equine Podatrist – find out more about Jayne on her site Healthy Hooves

In recent months you will hardly fail to notice that magnesium is very much talked about in the horse world. Supplements, feeds and licks are often fortified with it and it is said to cure many things from spooking to laminitis. Some barefoot trimmers have even been heard to say “you can’t allow your horse to go barefoot if you don’t feed magnesium”. This article will, I hope, debunk many myths and allow you to make an informed choice about whether your horse needs magnesium.

Magnesium is a vital mineral which is freely available in grass. It has over 3,000 known uses in the body, assisting with everything from regulating blood sugar levels to formation of hormones and enzymes, production of muscle tissue, conversion of glucose to energy, maintenance of a healthy nervous system and formation of bone and red blood cells. It’s no wonder that magnesium is taking up so much attention.

Magnesium is a calmer isn’t it?

Magnesium has been sold as a calmer for many years now. The reason for this is that when a horse becomes deficient they often become spooky and stressed and magnesium is needed to help produce some of the hormones needed to dampen down the adrenalin response. This can start a vicious circle. The horse gets stressed and uses what little magnesium reserves it has to dampen down the stress response. The less magnesium in the system, the more stressed the horse becomes and the more magnesium is needed to dampen down the stress.

Other signs of deficiency

Lack of magnesium in the diet can lead to increased respiratory rates (the horse takes more breaths per minute), muscle tremors, loss of appetite and aggressiveness or ill temper. It is thought to be linked to grass sickness, stringhalt and azoturia. More recently a link has been made between magnesium deficiency and laminitis. Because magnesium is crucial to the deposition of calcium into the bones, magnesium deficiency can also produce all of the problems associated with calcium deficiency.

Why do horses become magnesium deficient?

It’s all a question of balance. Magnesium deficiency in the UK was comparatively rare before the introduction of chemical fertilisers. The most common type of chemical fertiliser is NPK which contains Nitrogen, Potassium and phosphorus, all of which will unbalance the diet when fed in excess.

Nitrogen

Nitrates have been shown to deplete magnesium levels in the soil as well as inhibit magnesium uptake in the gut.

Phosphorus

It is well known that calcium and phosphorus need to be balanced with each other. For every gram of phosphorus, you need at least 1.7 grams of calcium. When chemical fertilisers push phosphorus levels too high, it causes an unbalanced ratio which prevents magnesium uptake.

Potassium

Potassium has very little attention paid to it. This is because until recently it was assumed that, as potassium is plentiful in British grass, and excesses are excreted in the urine, excesses or shortfalls are rare. However, more recent research shows that potassium needs to be balanced with sodium, in the same way that calcium and phosphorus need to be balanced. If sodium levels in grass are normal, but potassium levels are excessively high, it will cause an imbalance which inhibits magnesium uptake. Because sodium (salt) intake is too high in in human diets, we often avoid feeding it to our horses which can cause sodium levels to drop too low.

As well as fertilisers, other vitamins and minerals have been found to have a close relationship with magnesium.

B Vitamins

Although some of the B vitamins are found in grass and hay, they are mainly produced by the microflora in various parts of the horse’s digestive system. When a horse’s digestive system becomes unbalanced –for instance through excessively high levels of carbohydrate, insufficient fibre or gastric ulcers, manufacture of these vitamins will be disturbed. Recent studies have shown that vitamin B6 in particular is required to aid absorption. Although no B6 deficiencies have ever been recorded, it has been found that supplementation with vitamin B6 will aid absorption of magnesium.

Calcium

An excess of calcium can depress magnesium uptake, but similarly an excess of magnesium can inhibit calcium uptake

Fluoride

Although fluoride is not a nutrient as such, it has been found that where water supplies have been impregnated with fluoride salts, it can render both magnesium and calcium inert in the body.

Recommended Daily Amount (RDA)

The nationally recognised RDA of magnesium is quoted as about 10g daily. However, this is based on research carried out on cows. Some researchers are now beginning to think that a horse’s requirement is higher –as much as 15g daily.

What happens if I feed too much magnesium?

This is the important bit, because now that people are more aware of the importance of magnesium, there is a danger of feeding too much.

At VERY high levels, a horse can develop diahorrea, although this is rare. More commonly, high magnesium levels will inhibit uptake of calcium and phosphorus. You see, it’s all a question of balance. Applying a “one size fits all” solution to equine nutrition simply doesn’t work.

So how do I feed magnesium safely?

First of all, ask yourself why you think your horse needs magnesium. Not all horses are deficient. If they are grazing on grass that has not been chemically fertilised for at least 15 years, eat organic meadow hay, have a diet that includes non-molassed sugar beet and/or Alfalfa (both of which are good sources of calcium) and likes to lick his salt lick, the chances are that your horse will be able to obtain all the magnesium he needs from the grass

Sources of magnesium

There are many ways to add magnesium into the diet –some are more effective than others.

Epsom Salts

These are high in magnesium, and are often used to help with acute cases lf laminitis. However, they must not be fed long term as they will cause kidney problems.

Dolomite

A rock that is high in magnesium oxide. It’s not that easy to get hold of in the UK and purer sources of magnesium oxide are now much more readily available.

Calmag

A cheap and popular way to feed magnesium to cows. It stands for “Calcined Magnesite”. Calcination is the process whereby magnesite ore is “cooked” to decompose the mineral, leaving behind high levels of magnesium. However, because it is relatively impure it appears to be absorbed by cows far more efficiently than it is absorbed by horses –possibly because cows have more stomachs!

Magnesium Oxide

I keep Magnesium Oxide in the car because it is by far the most efficient way I’ve found to get magnesium into a horse. I use human food grade magnesium oxide (usually destined for the magnesium tablets you find in health food shops). I use the finely ground magnesium which the horse seems to absorb most efficiently. It’s called Magnesium Oxide (Light). The basic rule of thumb for a standard dose is to take the weight of the horse in kg, remove the last 0 and that’s the amount to feed in ml.

For example, a 500kg horse would need 50ml daily, preferably split into two feeds. The feed scoops you find in supplements usually have the volume in ml written on the handle but it probably equates to about a rounded dessert spoon daily. NOTE : This ONLY relates to feeding Magnesium Oxide (Light). Feeding other types of magnesium at this level could seriously unbalance the horse’s diet. Also, make sure you dampen the feed as it’s a bit like talcum powder and will blow everywhere otherwise.

If after 6 weeks you see no difference in your horse’s wellbeing, you may find that magnesium deficiency wasn’t the problem and you can stop feeding it. Similarly, often when a horse is in a vicious cycle of depletion, once they have replaced their missing magnesium they have no requirement for continued supplementation.

Equine Magnesium Supplements

These tend to be very overpriced for what they are and do not deliver the magnesium in realistic quantities. I cannot advise on how much to feed as each product has a different magnesium level.

Magnesium Chloride

There are many articles on the internet which say that Magnesium Chloride is taken up much more efficiently than Magnesium Oxide. This may be true, but as magnesium oxide turns into Magnesium Chloride as soon as it hits the stomach, I’m not too worried. Both produce good results. My favourite source is from Roger Hatch at Trinity Consultants. His P45 supplement contains a variety of goodies, including high levels of Magnesium Chloride which have proven to quite literally be a lifesaver in some laminitis cases

What’s all this got to do with hooves?

When a horse does not wear shoes, their level of sensitivity to stones and uneven surfaces will fluctuate with the seasons. Often a horse will be striding confidently over gravel one week, then picking their way gingerly the next, then sound as a pound a week later. In the old days, horses who did this were just assumed to need shoes which appeared to solve the problem. However, since owners became interested in keeping their horses without shoes, they began to ask why it was happening, and to see if it could be resolved without resorting to shoes.

One of the benefits of Equine Podiatry is that our practitioners take records of changes in diet and management and relate that to the level of comfort that a horse shows. Following research by Sue Kempson at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies near Edinburgh, she was finding good results in the treatment of laminitis using magnesium supplementation. As we were beginning to suspect that many of these intermittently footsore horses showed subtle, but distinct symptoms that we were beginning to refer to as “Low Grade Laminitis” we began to use magnesium supplementation to see if it helped.

Not all horses improved, but a significant number did. Not just their comfort levels, but hoof health and shape improved too. Some horses would go from being very sore indeed to completely sound within days of beginning their supplementation. Owners often also reported that their horse showed improved skin health, respiratory problems eased and the horse’s temperament became more relaxed.

We often use magnesium in the treatment of full blown laminitis and it has been found to have a significant effect in the majority of cases. Unfortunately, it is usually only part of the problem and therefore doesn’t offer a magic cure, although there have been some miraculous recoveries recorded simply through supplementation.

So, in short, Magnesium is a very important mineral which can have a profound effect on the health of your horse, but only if your horse is deficient in the first place.