Recognizing the signs that your horse is in the early stages of a laminitic attack can mean all the difference to his future health and soundness.

You’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat”. Well, what goes into your horse’s mouth or system comes out in the foot. The horse’s hoof is an ever changing and adapting vascular mechanism. The outside hoof wall mirrors the inside of the hoof, especially in the area of the sensitive laminae, otherwise known as the white line.

The laminae are composed of both epidermal laminae and dermal laminae. The two fit tightly together like Velcro, interlocking and securing the outside capsule of the foot to the inside structure. This bond is virtually indestructible through force, unless it is compromised by a metabolic or toxic effect taking place in the horse’s system.

Destruction of the Connection

Thanks to the studies of Dr. Chris Pollitt in Australia, we now understand how the connection of the laminae in the hoof is destroyed. Simply stated, there are good bacteria and bad bacteria in the horse’s gut. The good bacteria are killed off by sugars, creating a lactic acid, which then causes lesions or ulcers in the hindgut. The bad bacteria love the sugars and carbohydrates, and end up mass-producing. These bad bacteria die off very quickly, however, creating endotoxins. These endotoxins seep into the bloodstream through the gut lesions and go straight to the laminae of the horse’s foot, causing inflammation and destroying it. The once tightly connected epidermal and dermal laminae lose hold of each other. This is referred to as laminitis and founder.

Subclinical Signs

There are varying degrees of laminitis, from subclinical to fullfledged founder. Subclinical laminitis (also referred to as low grade laminitis), is what we as natural hoof care practitioners see every day when we trim horses. A horse with one or more of the following is showing signs that the laminae are being compromised due to too much sugar and toxins in his system:

• a stretched white line
• seedy toe
• re-occurring abscessing
• annoying thrush that won’t go away
• dropped flat sole
• small re-occurring pit in the center of the sole at the toe
• chronic cracks and stringy, tattered walls
• visible horizontal laminitic hoof rings
• overall disintegrating poor quality hoof capsule Low-grade laminitis can also be brought on by seasonal and hormonal changes. Anything toxic to the horse’s system comes out in the feet.

What He Eats Shows Up In His Feet

Horses were not meant to consume large amounts of nonstructural carbohydrates and sugar. They are a foraging species that has lived millions of years on fresh and dried grasses, herbs, plants, and minerals in rocks. In the last 25 years, domestic horses have been plied with enormous amounts of sweet feed, complete feed, and toxic chemicals through wormers and inoculations. Today’s hay and pasture grasses have been genetically modified and are designed for the dairy industry to be high in sugars. Now, with the environment changing so quickly, these issues are tipping many otherwise healthy domestic horses into a subclinical laminitic and toxic state, which over time very quickly leads to founder. Laminitis and insulin resistance are on the rise in domestic horses, just as diabetes is in humans.

Catch It Before It’s Too Late

We now have the knowledge to prevent subclinical laminitis from happening and accumulating until the horse can’t walk. Please don’t ignore the telltale signs. If a horse that usually moves freely suddenly becomes stiff while trotting, is paddling or short-strided, these are more advanced signs that he’s laminitic. If he is tenderfooted on gravel or cement, this is a warning sign that his system is overloaded with sugar/toxins and his system and hooves are very seriously compromised. If your horse is insulin resistant or metabolically challenged, then as little as one tablespoon of sugar in his diet can keep him in a subclinical laminitic state.

Research still needs to be carried out in wild horse country to truly determine what a natural diet for horses is. Wild horses forage all day and night on dried grasses and certain plants, tree barks and minerals that occur naturally in rock deposits. They don’t eat oats, wheat, corn or molasses as part of their native diet. If you suspect your horse is having trouble dealing with sugar and carbohydrates, take him off grass pasture and place him in a dry lot with grass hay, minerals and water only. Eliminate all grains, supplements, apples, carrots and other feeds you suspect have sugar in them. There are now feeds, hay replacements and naturally organic chelated mineral supplements that test under 10% for non-structural carbohydrates and are safe for the insulin resistant horse – and for all horses. Finally, get that horse moving and exercising, for lack of movement will surely slow or impede the healing process he so desperately needs.

Anne Riddell is a certified natural hoof care practitioner who specializes in founder, laminitis, navicular lameness, and high performance barefoot horses. She offers trimming instruction to horse owners and other professionals.