Alayne and Bob at a 2012 reining show. Bob was diagnosed with laminitis in 2007 but with careful management has been able to return to career of regular riding and competition.

Photo courtesy: Alayne Blickle

Dealing with the post-laminitic horse has its challenges, but it is also rewarding when you’re able to see your horse living a good quality of life and returning to his or her former profession. I have been lucky enough to have that experience with my reining horse, Bob. In 2007 at Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital he was diagnosed with having previously had laminitis.

I had brought him for a lameness evaluation and MRIs because his off and on lameness for the previous year was stumping my vets. We needed answers, but this wasn’t what I had hoped for. I was shocked, but knew when this happened. At an out-of-state reining show the previous spring Bob had a fairly aggressive show schedule plus he ended up having to be reshod several times--his big stride caused him to over-reach from behind and pull off his front shoes. His thin, flat soles couldn’t handle all that stress and he ended up extremely lame the last morning there.

At the time we thought he was just foot sore and endeavored to keep him comfortable and get him back home. In retrospect I now know that he had developed laminitis, or what in the old days we called road founder. My point I want to make here is not how or why it happened, but how I currently manage Bob’s diet and the fact that he has been able to return to a successful career of reining and competing.

Once a horse has developed laminitis they often become less tolerant of a diet containing high levels of sugars and starch, or non structural carbohydrates (NSCs). Horses with metabolic issues such as laminitis, Cushings, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, insulin resistance, Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, etc. need to have their diets strictly managed for the rest of their lives to reduce NSCs. One of the best resources I found for learning about this is Katy Watts of Rocky Mountain Research and Consulting, Inc., http://www.safergrass.org/. Ms. Watts has DVDs and other educational materials available for purchase for a reasonable price.

Surprisingly, alfalfa hay is lower in non-structural carbohydrates than grass hay. Bob gets three meals per day, each six pounds of alfalfa hay, totally 18 pounds per day. No pasture or treats because these contain too much sugar. He does get one pound of pelleted Timothy grass that we use to “top-dress” his vitamin and joint supplements which safely adds a little variety to his diet. Timothy hay (unlike other grass hays) is often low in NSCs which is why we chose it. We have used Standlee Hay pellets for five years and have been very pleased with their consistency and quality of their product.

For grazing tips on managing the metabolically challenged horse see the past Smart Horse Keeping Tips for Safer Grazing but the bottom line is this: learn what a healthy weight for your horse is and treat each horse as an individual. Just like with people, the dietary needs for one horse may not be the same for another horse. And also like people, exercising a horse as little as 30 minutes/day, three times/week can make a big health change by improving their overall metabolism. Bob gets ridden three to five times per week. He wasn’t the least bit overweight when this initially occurred, but now we are extra careful to be sure he stays well exercised and at the correct weight. As always, if you have an at-risk individual seek help from a veterinarian and/or and other professionals experienced in this area.

Laminitis is a crippling, complicated disease, but if you catch it early and work through the dietary issues you may be lucky enough to bring you horse back to soundness. Check out TheHorse.com for more information on the latest laminitis research as well as tips for preventing laminitis.