How to Manage a Laminitis Prone Horse

Laminitis (commonly called founder in more serious cases) is a painful and distressing condition of the hoof. It can lead to chronic, incurable lameness. Some horses are humanely destroyed because of it.

There are numerous causes of Laminitis, but they are not all fully understood. There is currently a lot of research devoted to Laminitis.

Broadly Laminitis can be divided it to three forms; concussion-induced (cause by fast work on a hard surface), caused by another medical condition (such as Cushing's syndrome) or feed-induced. Feed-induced Laminitis is the most common form of laminitis and the type that will be mainly covered by this article. 50% of Laminitis cases could have been avoided with the correct management. Laminitis is one of the biggest killers of horses, second only to colic.


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    Have your horse's hooves regularly trimmed by a fully qualified farrier or trimmer.
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    Keep your horse at a healthy weight. Obesity has been links to Laminitis, as well as other conditions. By monitoring your horse's weight every 2 weeks and plotting the results on a graph, minor weight changes can be seen early. To monitor your horse's weight you can use condition scoring, a weigh tape or a weight bridge.
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    Keep to the basic rules of feeding.
    • Feed little and often. (No more then 2kg per feed for a 500kg horse. No longer than 4 hours without feed/forage.)
    • Make all dietary changes slowly over 1 or 2 weeks.
    • Make sure feed rooms and feed bins are horse proof, to prevent a horse from breaking in and gorging themselves.
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    Restrict fructan in grazing. Fructan is a type of sugar found in grass and hay. Certain types of grass have more than others. Timothy and cocks foot have less than Italian rye grass. Change grazing, or re-seed if possible.
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    Restrict or avoid grazing. This is especially important when the grass is stressed, (after it's been cut for hay or during a frost) during the day when it's it full sun, or during times of high growth (spring and possibly autumn after a dry summer). Grazing can be restricted by strip grazing or using a grazing muzzle.
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    Restrict fructan in feeding. Mature, timothy and meadow hay are lower then early cut rye grass. Oat straw is even lower.
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    Restrict starch and sugar in the feed. Both have been connected to Laminitis. Avoid high starch feeds like cereals and high sugar feeds like molasses. Replace these feeds with fiber and oil based feeds, including unmolassed sugar beet, chaffs, alfalfa and neat oil.
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    Feed supplements to aid insulin resistance. Laminitis is thought to be linked to insulin resistance (similar to diabetes in humans). Certain supplements have been known to aid this condition, including cinnamon and magnesium.
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    Herbs are a good additive to any feed. Though care needs to be taken, as many herbs cannot go hand-in-hand as they counteract each other and others can cause severe problems. As a rule, the only 3 herbs that should be used together unless otherwise stated by a veterinarian or equine herbalist are rosehips, chamomile, and garlic. For a horse that has Laminitis or has actually foundered, rosehip is the best herb. It promotes hoof growth and repair and help to calm the horse to a certain degree. It is also good for their coat. It can be added directly into their feed, and as a rule of dosages. Ponies: 1 teaspoon, Galloways: 1 to 2 teaspoons, Hacks: 2 teaspoons, and 3 teaspoons if the horse is a warmblood or heavy draft.


  • How often the hooves will need trimming depends on whether the horse is shod or barefoot, the horse's conformation, workload, management and diet. Between 4 and 8 weeks is common, your farrier can tell if it is needed more frequently. By having them trimmed frequently, the hoof can be monitored and corrected before any major structural damage occurs.
  • Some horses may sift their feed, as Oaten chaff is very bland, add Camomile, Garlic and Rosehip, as well as 1 cup of Lucerne pellets, (availability and if they are horse feed, some may in fact be rabbit food). That way the horse won't be sifting looking for the good stuff.
  • Turn the horse out in a 'Jenny Craig', or starvation Paddock. This is a paddock with hardly if any grass or picking. This means that the only feed the horse is consuming is the feed rationed by the owner. And the owner can then recognise if the horse is improving or getting worse.


  • Many people think that laminitis is only a condition that affects fat ponies. However it can affect any horse or pony in any condition.
  • Starvation paddocks are common management for good-doer however the grass that does grow in them is overgrazed and stress (i.e. has higher then normal fructan level). Also without the roots of grasses to help keep the soil together, these paddocks are especially prone to poaching. Covering it is mulch can help solve both these problems.
  • Recovery of laminitis and founder can take several months to a year, longer or the horse may never fully recover. If a competition horse or a broodmare is diagnosed with it, then special care should be taken to help minimise recovery time and therefore meaning less time off and spelling. Though a spell time of a few months after recovery has taken place is recommended.
  • Horses have been proven to eat as much in a short period when the grazing muzzle is removed as they would grazing without one.
  • It has been claimed that the Strasser Trim (a method of trimming developed by Dr. Strasser) can cure and avoid laminitis. However this method has been condemned by The Laminitis Trust, The International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) and The Royal Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
  • The horse in question may sift their feed, so adding a pellet that is non-heating and that has no oil, protein or carbohydrate's (Lucerne (alfalfa) pellets is recommended) will help this problem. Alternatively or as well as, you can wet down the food and add some bran, the bran will cleanse the bowels and does not interfere with the founder or laminitis, and will make the horse eat slower without sifting.
  • If laminitis is suspected, a vet must be called immediately. It is not a condition that can be managed without veterinary supervision.

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Categories: Horse Health