Laminitis — case study

If dealing with laminitis and founder in your horse is starting to feel hopeless, MdF’s successful rehabilitation may give you some inspiration and new ideas for helping him.

Laminitis and founder are becoming endemic in the horse world. And once your horse has started down this road, it can feel like a long and losing battle. However, as the saying goes, it is often darkest before the dawn, and there are plenty of success stories out there, like the one presented in this article.

Meet MdF

MdF is a handsome ten-year-old Paso Fino gelding purchased in 2008 by his owner directly from the breeder. Three years old at the time, MdF was moved to his new home where he lived in a small mixed herd in a natural setting, with a diet consisting of free choice hay, minerals and some pasture.

By April of 2011, MdF was gaining weight and beginning to have brief episodes of laminitis. A veterinarian also diagnosed him with insulin resistance and equine metabolic syndrome. His neck continued to become quite thick, hard and cresty, and his body showed signs of regional adiposity (fat deposits). He couldn’t be ridden and was sore 90% of the time.

Over the course of the next two years, MdF received various prescription medications, including Phenylbutazone, Thyroxine and Previcox, as well as many herbal supplements for equine metabolic syndrome, including a series of expensive Chinese herbs. Unfortunately, at the end of January 2013, MdF became acutely laminitic and foundered. After months of relentless conventional veterinary care, he did not improve, so his owner agreed to move him to a natural rehabilitation facility.

Nature’s rehabilitation

It was at the natural rehabilitation facility that MdF finally started to improve. Within two weeks of arriving at his new home, he was walking soundly. Now, after years of being unable to be ridden, he was enjoying daily trail rides. Being able to exercise again greatly improved his progress towards health and soundness.

What made the difference?

Upon arriving at the rehabilitation center, MdF was placed in an all-dirt paddock where he stayed for two weeks, for bio-security reasons and to give him a chance to relax and become familiar with his new environment. He was weaned off all drugs, his food intake was managed, and he was allowed to detox stress-free. He had the company of other horses all around him, but without the fear of being bullied. At his old home, MdF lived with two mares who both picked on him and repeatedly chased him off. The ongoing stress left his cortisol levels constantly high, which in turn increased his levels of insulin. Dr. Chris Pollitt from Queensland University showed us that increased insulin on its own could induce laminitis. When cortisol levels go up, so does insulin.

A few other factors contributed to MdF’s laminitic attacks. Changes of season or sudden changes in temperature caused this already compromised horse to experience an attack of severe laminitis and/or founder. Even small amounts of grass or hay with too much alfalfa or sugar would keep him in a constant laminitic state. These bouts of laminitis are cumulative and eventually lead to full-out founder, which MdF finally developed in January 2013.

After two weeks, MdF was moved to a Paddock Paradise track system where he could move at leisure 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a small herd of geldings. He was given a daily dose of ground flax, probiotics, kelp, timothy balance hay cubes, and passion flower to help with his nerves. He continued to get stronger and healthier as the days went by. By December, he had actually lost too much weight and had to be fed a bit extra. This can sometimes happen when a horse is going through a heavy detox. Paddock Paradise is an ingenious method for getting horses moving. Placing hay in piles or small hay bags and/or feeders is more effective and encourages them to move from pile to pile instead of standing around a round bale. Movement is key.

Today, MdF continues to live in a Paddock Paradise with lots of buddies, and his diet and nutritional needs are addressed daily. He continues to remain sound and is ridden on a regular basis.

Although loving, consistent attention from a horse’s caregiver goes a long way to help rehabilitate him, I’ve found that kind buddies and the freedom to move 24/7 do more than anything else to speed up the healing process!


References: Pathways, Dr. Chris Poillitt, Jaime Jackson