This is part 1 of our 2 part Springtime Cautions and Laminitis Blog.
Spring Time Cautions
Spring is a time of new growth, marking the start of greener pastures and warmer weather. A great time to be out and riding (if it ever stops raining for long enough here on the East Coast!). But if your horse has been on hay only throughout winter, due to being stabled or poor pasture, you need to take steps to transition them from winter to spring safely.
Gradually changing feed is vital to keep your horse or pony safe and well, particularly if you have a laminitic, Insulin Resistant (IR) or Cushing’s horse or pony. No doubt your horse will be chomping at the bit to get into the lush green spring grass, but the high sugar and starch content can lead to laminitis and/or diarrhoea if grazing is not strictly controlled and managed during the transition from Winter into the Spring flush of feed.
At GutzBusta, we’re committed to helping you keep your horse safe, so we’ve put together some news, tips, and advice to help you prepare for Spring.
When is your pasture safest?
Higher, easily digestible carbohydrate content in your pasture is potentially dangerous to all horses while they’re transitioning from a low-grass/hay-based diet to the flush of feed in Spring. But animals that are IR, have Cushing’s disease, or are overweight are even more susceptible to laminitis, so you need to work out when or even if your pasture is safe.
The general rules of assessing whether your pasture is ‘safe’ or not are determined by both temperature and sunlight on the plant:
- When the night temperatures are below 5 degrees C, the grass is too high in sugar and starch due to the stress on the grass.
- Once it gets above 5 degrees C at night, the lowest plant sugar and starch level is before sunrise
- Anything that stresses a plant will raise the sugar levels eg: drought or frost or importantly - overgrazing!
- Sunny days: The NSC levels are highest in the afternoon/evening
- Over cast or cloudy days: Grass produces less sugar and starch due to less photosynthesis taking place, so pasture is a little safer.
Unfortunately, there are some horses and ponies that are never or rarely in a position to be put out to pasture for longer than an hour a day, if at all at certain times of the year.
It is important to seek veterinary/trimmer/farrier/equine nutritionist help when dealing with chronic and acute laminitis cases. Making an informed decision and getting the CORRECT advice can literally mean the difference of life or death to your horse or pony, or a lifetime of suffering. Sunny afternoons are NEVER safe to allow grazing for these types of horses and ponies. I have had many people over there years tell me they let their horse or pony out for an hour in the afternoons. This is like letting your child loose in a candy store!
Carbohydrates levels = ESC + Starch < 10%
This is particularly important when you are getting hay tested for laminitic-prone horses and ponies. It is not the NSC that is what you need to know, but the ESC + Starch level. This should be under 10% to be considered safe for at-risk equines. These figures are equally important for pasture; however, pasture carbohydrate levels change all of the time due to many factors already discussed above.
Dr Eleanore Kellon's web page - Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance has some fantastic information on managing, emergency protocol, and general education on this topic. All horses can get laminitis under the wrong conditions.
This Spring of 2022 for the East Coast of Australia will be particularly detrimental for more horses and ponies than usual. High rain and warmer weather equal prolific growth.
Factors to consider!
There are many other factors that can affect the ESC and Starch content of your grass and hay, including soil quality, nutrient levels, drought, flooding, and type of pasture (native V’s improved). Clover and ryegrass can be among the most dangerous and high sugared pastures for your horses and ponies to be on, so not recommended at all.
If you are uncertain and need some help working out which slow feeder will suit your needs best in this transition period or all year around, be sure to reach out to us here at GutzBusta. You can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll help put your mind at ease and help you decide which slow feed hay net will work for your horses.💖 We also have a GREAT informative page on our website that can be found here, that discusses the different hole sizes we have available and how to decide which sized hole is best for your circumstances.
When requesting actual feed advice we suggest speaking with an Equine Nutritionist or Veterinarian that may be familiar with your individual animals and locality.
Be prepared as we head into Spring and have your hay net stock levels up so if you have to lock up your equines to get them off the grass, you have an excellent management tool ready!
Spring is a time of new growth, marking the start of greener pastures and warmer weather. Spring is also a time of misery for many horse and pony owners who battle with the dreaded condition of laminitis. Particularly if you have a laminitic, Insulin Resistant (IR) or Cushing’s horse or pony.
This was my very reason for getting into the Slow Feed Business in the first place. As a trimmer, I was having to advise clients to keep their horses off grass due to their high probability of becoming sore with laminitis, or because they were already sore and needed help with rehabilitation. Nothing saddened me more than seeing horses fed a biscuit of hay and then half an hour later, they had nothing to eat again until the next meal time which could be 12 or even 24 hours.
Why is starvation NOT the answer?
Stress causes the release of Cortisol and starvation is a form of stress for an animal that should be eating for 18 to 20 hours a day. Therefore, it makes NO sense to starve a laminitic horse as this cortisol release interferes with the hoof wall/coffin bone connection and will delay the improvement of a stronger hoof wall connection once correct management begins.
A few hours of no feed can be ok, but not feeding one biscuit of hay twice a day thrown on the ground. This simply is NOT enough fibre/roughage for a horse or pony and is quite stressful for them.
What is Low Grade / Subclinical Laminitis?
Many of us are familiar with the typical laminitis stance where the horse is leaning backward taking weight off its toes. However, with low-grade or sub-clinical laminitis, it is much more insidious and can creep up on you without realising it.
Little bit by little bit the hoof wall/coffin bone connection becomes further and further separated. If not checked, your horse will most likely fall further down the cascade of laminitis. This is a condition not to be taken lightly as it is the second biggest killer of horses. This also leads to seedy toe issues due to the loss of integrity and tight connection of the hoof wall and coffin bone through the laminae line.
Many people get away with sub-optimal management for a long time, even years... until the horse or pony crashes. Watching your beloved Equine battle through this condition is heart-breaking as their pain can be horrific.
Signs of Sub-Clinical Laminitis?
There are MANY signs of subclinical laminitis.
- Uncomfortable on hard ground, when previously ok.
- Shortening stride on hard ground.
- Horizontal Ridges (rings) on the exterior of the hoof wall.
- Reluctance to pick up feet for cleaning.
- Sore after a trim when usually ok.
- Digital Pulse.
- Shifting weight.
- Stretched or blood in the lamina line.
- Flattened sole.
One of the biggest tell-tale signs is the rings in the hoof wall. Too often this is ignored, but it is hugely significant.
Management is the key to success. Although a working progress, the below photos are 6 months between them showing the difference regular trimming and management can make. Less 'rings' and a tighter connected hoof wall/coffin bone connection, and therefore a shorter toe and lower heel 💝
EVERY horse is capable of becoming Laminitic
There are just those that are more prone than others. Some horses may spend a lot of their life in a sub-clinical state but due to seasonal variations, they may 'cope' ok. That is until too many cards become stacked against them and they succumb to this debilitating condition.
Laminitis isn't just a 'Pony' thing!
All horses and ponies are susceptible under the wrong/right conditions.
- Do you have somewhere that you can safely lock up your horse or pony during higher-risk times or if they are already getting sore or showing signs of sub-clinical Laminitis?
- Have you checked your GutzBusta Hay Net supply to make sure you have them on hand if you do need to start locking your horse and pony up?
- Are you getting your equine's hooves regularly attended to? In Spring and Summer, they can tend to grow faster. 6 weeks is too long in most cases. This applies to both shod and unshod hooves.
- Diet - Have you found 'safe' hay that is less than 10% in ESC and starch?
- Are you watching weather, growth rates and times of day and taking these into consideration for managing your horse or pony? See our last email for more information on this topic and post above.
- Exercise - even 20 minutes of hand walking 3 to 4 times a week can be helpful.
- Movement - Horses are meant to move. Having a buddy will increase this movement and keep them content. A paddock paradise system can work well to stimulate movement, but control what the horses have access to.
- Reduce stress
With correct management, continual learning and adjustment to management techniques as conditions change, most horses and ponies can be returned to soundness from laminitis, especially in acute laminitis situations.
Prognosis becomes more guarded in terms of chronic laminitis sufferers, particularly if there is damage to the coffin bone within the foot. Sometimes there are some horses that just don't respond to treatment protocols no matter how well managed, or damage is significant rendering it more humane to send the horse on its way with humane euthanasia.
Disclaimer: The information contained within this Blog is 'generalized' and not specifically taking into account the individual health status of your particular horse or pony. Nor does it take into account the feed variations, soil type, or any other factors related to specific situations and areas. The contents of this email are not regarded as 'advice'. It is up to the individual owner to educate themselves and seek advice specific to their needs and situation.
Please consult with your local veterinarian, trimmer, farrier, and equine nutritionist to get specific information related to you and your horse.