Springtime Reminders #2

In Part 2 of our 2 part series on Laminitis and Spring Time Cautions...

Terminology and Feeding Rates!

There are many terms when discussing Spring Time Cautions and you may be confused or not sure about some of the terminology. While others may be at expert level status due to having had to learn all this due to watching your own horse or pony battle with laminitis. It can be a long tough and sometimes heart-breaking journey. We hope that we can offer some tips, tricks, and education to save you that heartache for your own equines.

What is the difference between laminitis and founder?

These 2 terms are often used interchangeably, however, the following gives a little more insight into their definitions. Laminitis: Weakening of the laminae hoof wall connection - the tissue that connects the coffin bone to the hoof wall inside the foot. Horses and ponies, like us humans are experiencing more and more metabolic issues often from too much feed/inappropriate feed and not enough exercise. The first sign of PPID/Cushing's or IR can often be laminitis. Laminitis can be sub-clinical or low-grade and in our previous email, we discussed these signs. Left unchecked, or unresolved, laminitis can progress to what some call 'founder'. This commonly occurs in cresty-necked, or obese horses and is a great reason why horses should exit winter more on the lean side. There are many varying degrees of laminitis - mild or low grade to severe (founder).

Founder: Often used synonymously with laminitis, but often indicates disease progression if this term is used. Most people use the term founder to show a horse whose coffin bone has come separated from its hoof wall attachment and is displaced.


Not just limited to grass, Carbohydrate/Grain overload can also be a major cause of laminitis. Nutritionally induced laminitis through carbohydrate overload (grain, fruit, snacks, molasses) is another common cause. An excess of starch and sugars overflowing into the hindgut upsets the microflora (bacteria), which in turn, produces lactic acid, increasing the acidity of the hindgut. A toxic environment is created and toxins are released into the bloodstream via leaky hindgut epithelium.

Although laminitis is commonly caused by feed, grass, or grain overload, it is also important to realize that not EVERY case of laminitis is feed or metabolically related.

There are other causes such as: 

  • Snakebite.
  • Retained fetal membranes (placenta) after the birth of a foal.
  • Toxaemia - Many different causes, but horses that have high levels of toxins in the bloodstream are at high risk of laminitis. Bacterial, viral, plant, chemical and fungal toxins have all been implicated in causing laminitis. Keep an eye on horses that are suffering from fever, diarrhoea, colic (particularly after surgery), pneumonia, and pleurisy. Treatment of the initiating cause must be accomplished before improvement in laminitis can be expected.
  • Medications and Steroids - Although controversial, prolonged use or high doses of corticosteroids may contribute to the development of laminitis in some horses. Routine vaccinations have also been known to cause laminitis for the odd horse or pony, therefore careful consideration needs to be given of the time of year they are given for metabolic-type horses and ponies.
  • Trauma - If a horse is injured and therefore is excessively weight-bearing on one leg. Fast or prolonged work on hard surfaces is another cause that has been associated with mechanical laminitis.

WSC, NSC, and ESC - what are these?

What are WSC, NSC, and ESC? These are terms for various carbohydrate fractions in forage or feeds.

  • Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC) are carbohydrates solubilized and extracted in water. Includes monosaccharides, disaccharides and some polysaccharides — mainly fructan.
  • Fructan is a major storage carbohydrate in grasses.
  • Non-Structural Carbohydrate (NSC) is calculated by adding Water Soluble Carbohydrate (WSC) and Starch.
  • Ethanol Soluble Carbohydrates (ESC) are simple sugars. Only ESC and Starch will cause glucose spikes and insulin spikes.

It is the ESC and Starch levels added together that give the percentage of carbohydrates in the hay. For laminitic, IR/Cushings, or any obese or metabolically challenged horse or pony, this should be under 10%, with the starch portion being 4% or lower.

How much should a horse be fed?

As a feeding guide, a horse should receive approximately 1.5 – 2.5% of its body weight in forage. Therefore on average, a 500kg horse in maintenance up to moderate work should be getting 10-12.5kg or forage (hay/grass from grazing) per day.

If your horse is overweight, then aiming for 1.5% is ideal and if underweight then heading for 2.5% would be ideal. If your horse needs to lose weight, feeding 1.5% of its current body weight, or 2.0% of it's ideal bodyweight (whichever is more) is recommended.

This is why we have our hay weighers on our site to help owners weigh their hay and feed to know exactly what weight they are feeding.

Horses should never be fed per biscuit but by weight. For example; a biscuit of lucerne V's a biscuit of pasture hay can be very different and the horse might be getting too much or too little.

This is where a slow feeder comes in handy as it can be loaded up with hay and the horse is able to get the amount of forage it requires.

The right hay is soooo important!

No matter if there is a short period of fasting or if you have ad-lib 24/7 grazing, the MOST important factor is the sugar and starch content of the hay. If your horse has 24/7 access to high sugar hay then you will never get on top of the laminitis and your horse will head on a downhill run to more severe laminitis or 'founder'.

I personally used to get my hay tested by Equi-Analytical/Dairy One in the USA, however it was getting more and more complicated to import the hay to the USA, so I am now quite happy getting it done in Australia with Feed Central. Ryegrass and Clover are among the biggest Equine no no's of hay.

What do hay test results look like?

Here is one lot of hay we made recently that was made by cutting the pasture in the morning, and it got a small shower of rain on it. This shows the ESC and Starch (highlighted in red) levels being extremely low in this pasture, so this was perfect 24/7 munching hay for IR/Laminitic horses.  


Springtime Pasture Management!

There are many factors that affect the sugar and starch levels of our pastures. As Spring is a time of new growth, and a massive concern for many horse and pony owners, it is important to understand different elements and their management in your horse's pasture and how these will ultimately affect the wellbeing of your animals.

If you have a laminitic, Insulin Resistant (IR) or Cushing’s horse or ponies, then these elements are of particular concern. Some of these management and environmental elements include:

  • Mowing
  • Over-grazing
  • Pasture management
  • Frosts or high temperatures
  • Balanced soils

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.

Mowing your Pasture!

I often hear advice given to people that mow their pastures to reduce the amount of feed and make it 'safer' for their horses and ponies to graze.

This is unfortunately has quite the opposite effect on pasture sugar levels. Anything that stresses a plant, raises the sugar levels. Mowing stresses the plants, so although there may be less volume, what is now available is now fully loaded with sugar.

Taller, mature pastures, after the seed head has matured are safer than short, stressed pastures. Pastures are also slightly safer before they start to develop a seed head.

Although there may be some merit to mowing to keep the seed head from forming in the pasture species as the sugar content is greatest while the seed head is forming and maturing, this needs to be individually evaluated for your particular paddock and plant species. It is said that the pastures remain higher in sugar levels for 2 to 4 weeks after mowing, so mowing may just not work as by the time the pasture is 'safer' to graze after the stress of moving, it will by then have seed heads up and growing again. This is such an individual situation and all species of grass have their own way of dealing with being mowed, rate of seed head production, etc. The more species you have, the more you have to take into consideration.

RIRDC - Managing pastures to reduce laminitis

Quite a few years ago RIRDC came out with a good article on this topic. They analyzed pastures available in Australia and discussed stages of growth, different varieties of species available, the best pasture species for horses, and stress factors that affect plant sugar levels.

Although it's referencing NSC (non-structural carbohydrates), where NSC is written just remember that it is the sugar/carbohydrate that is the issue then you will still find an article that is worth reading.

Over Grazing

As I keep mentioning, anything that stresses a plant raises its sugar content levels. Overgrazing will certainly do that. This is very important to realize for at-risk horses and ponies as they are often locked up in a small yard or paddock that seemingly has little to graze on. However, it is that short stressed grass that they are picking growing at ground level that can be VERY high in sugar and starch and although well-meaning, may keep these horses in a laminitic state and not aid their return to soundness.

Dirt is the best place for these horses and ponies in a laminitic state, with low sugar hay that has an ESC and Starch content of less than 10%.

New shoots of grass are also higher in sugar and starch which will be seen in an overgrazing situation.

Another important consideration is that most of the sugar in grasses tends to be in the bottom 3 to 4 inches of the plants. While it might be tempting to think that a very short, overgrazed pasture is safe because there’s “nothing much there,” such pastures present several risks—grasses are very stressed and only the lower inches of the plant are available, meaning these pastures can be very high in sugar. Add a frost to this and this short stressed grass can be diabolically high in sugar.

Frosts and High Temperatures

One of the general rules of assessing whether your pasture is ‘safe’ or not is 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
  • However, once temperatures are heading over 32-40 degrees C (depending if the plant is a C3 or C4 species), the plant is also stressed and it's sugar levels are raised.

At low temperatures of 5 degrees C and below, the plant's growth rate is slow, which means stored sugars aren’t used up. As such, they’ll still be high in the early morning. In this situation, potentially at-risk horses should not have pasture access.

Balanced Soils

It makes sense that if the soils are not balanced and are nutritionally depleted, then you can only expect the plants growing on these soils will also be the same. This of course adds more stress to the plant and is another factor to take into consideration.

You can easily do a soil test yourself using programs such as SWEP. Over-fertilisation is also not a good thing and can lead to nutrients being 'locked up' and not available for the plants.

Regenerative farming techniques can lead to healthier soils without high fertilizer input costs.

What is regenerative farming?
Regenerative farming is a way of working with nature’s own perfect cycles and processes, cultivating biodiversity and letting the circle of life flow as it should.

This differs from large-scale, conventional farming, which focuses on efficiencies at the cost of a life well-lived for the animal, and respect for the ecosystem surrounding the farm. This may involve planting lots of trees, and visiting and moving animals every day.

Regenerative farming combines ancient knowledge, constant observation, and the mimicking of nature’s own processes to raise animals in a way that actually improves the land, the soil, and the overall ecosystem.

Although an ideal farming practice, many people agist, don't have their own land/property, or have their horses on prime grazing/farmland where this just isn't an option due to individual circumstances.
It is little wonder that horses fed high grain/low fibre diets are those horses with a higher incidence of colic, stomach ulcers and other forms of digestive upset such as diarrhoea. Fibre is paramount for happy, healthy horses and ponies (and all grass-eating livestock).

Grass is still the best!

Nothing can ever replicate grass in terms of its nutritive value to the horse. There are vitamins and minerals that can't be replicated by any supplement or bag mix.

Horses have evolved to graze 16-20 hours a day eating high-fibre diets. A diet high in fibre is super important to aid in horses having a healthy and correctly functioning digestive tract. If grass isn't safe for a particular horse or pony, then finding a safe, low sugar (NSC + Starch) and high quality hay source is critically important for your horse or pony.

Many people state that finding 'rough' hay for laminitic horses is the right hay, however this isn't totally correct. An importance must be placed on finding high quality and high nutrient level hay as these horses suffering from laminitis need all the support they can get. Low quality hay will not supply them with the nutrients they need to get better and grow better feet.  Correct supplementation to increase immune health is vitally important, especially if low quality hay is being used.

Consult your Equine Nutritionist for assistance.  It is little wonder that horses fed high grain/low fibre diets are those horses with a higher incidence of colic, stomach ulcers and other forms of digestive upset such as diarrhoea. Fibre is paramount for happy, healthy horses and ponies (and all grass-eating livestock).


Disclaimer: The information contained within this email 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.


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