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Horse owners often observe that their four-legged darlings are increasingly walking “tenderly”. As it often can be observed most visibly after the hoof trimmer was visiting, it is quickly blamed on the fact that “too much has been taken away” during the hoof treatment.

The culprit is found, a new hoof trimmer is needed. Most people do not realise that this pattern of movement is actually laminitis.

And the word that this usually doesn’t have all too much to do with the hoof trimming, but is rather due to the feeding, has not yet gotten about.

Nowadays, thanks to extensive research, we know that laminitis can have many faces.

Alleviating the symptoms alone does not change the cause.

It does not always have to come to a “full-blown” laminitis, which is accompanied by hot hooves, toe-relieving posture, frequent lying down, refusal to move, and more. Much more often one observes “subliminal” bouts of laminitis. The horses still walk well in the meadow or the riding arena, but on hard ground they are cautious, restrained, somewhat “clammy”, they prefer to walk a curve rather than turn on the spot.

Hoof shoes or shoeing will usually cure this foot soreness very quickly – the symptom disappears. But not the cause. Tender-footed walking should always be an alarm signal, because it means that painful, usually inflammatory reactions are occurring in the hoof.

The hooves can even be cold to normal temperature (“cold” laminitis does exist, which is never accompanied by warmth or pulsation even in an acute episode! This is especially true for chronic cases) and the horse is also in good spirits.

The causes of the different forms of laminitis can be diverse. In autumn, it is particularly common in horses that are still in the pastures, but which are often completely gnawed to the ground.

Years ago, the rule of thumb for horses with a predisposition to laminitis was that they could be put on the gnawed paddocks in autumn/winter, because there would be less growth and thus less protein in the grass.

Today, scientific research has shown that laminitis can have an overwhelming number of causes, but it is almost never related to the protein in the diet.

Short grazed pastures are a problem

Feed management; Fat pony in the pasture
© Adobe Stock/Eileen

The worn down “golf course lawns” that can often be seen as pasture in autumn are a much greater danger. Short winter pastures are also dangerous for sensitive horses. This is because grass can become stressed, which causes the levels of sugar, fructan and endophytes to increase.

All three have been confirmed as triggers for laminitis. Grass is stressed mainly by overgrazing (plant length less than a hand’s width above the ground), trampling (too many horses per area, running around the same area all summer long) and drought or wetness.

A summer that was practically always rainy is just as problematic as a long, dry “Indian summer” in which the horses are left on the land until the end of October because of how dry it is.

Foot soreness usually leads to the horses walking less, as movement is painful.

At the same time, however, the blood circulation in the hoof is reduced, as the work of the so-called “hoof pump” is essential for pumping the venous blood out of the hoof area.

Poorer blood circulation in turn restricts the ability to regenerate. It is only where fresh blood is able to reach, that the immune system can effectively work and nutrients necessary for cell development can be transported to.

In these kinds of cases, it’s therefore important to ensure good blood circulation, as this is the only way to prevent the acute problem from becoming a chronic change in the hoof towards a laminits hoof.

That’s why tender-footed walking should never be shrugged off, but instead taken seriously as starting laminitis.

What to do if the horse comes out of the pasture tender-footed?

In any case, immediately prevent access to the pasture or at least offer plenty of hay on gnawed areas to prevent further absorption of laminitis triggers through the stressed grass.

Ideally, the horses should always be switched to regrown pastures in good time or – if there is not enough space available – they are switched to the winter run with constant access to hay as soon as the pastures become too short.

Even if you would prefer to see your horse in the meadow all the time, you are not doing the horses or the meadows any favours with too little space.

In the case of classic, “hot” laminitis, cooling helps best in the first 48 hours after the symptoms appear.

This is often not helpful for “foot-sore” horses, because their condition has usually developed gradually over a few days or weeks. In most cases, it is better to immediately ensure that the blood circulation in the hoof area is stimulated.

Immediate measures

In addition to the care provided by a competent hoof trimmer, the immediate administration of OKAPI HoofCool forte, which should not be missing in any stable pharmacy, has proven its worth. It contains herbs that have a capillary-widening and clot-dissolving effect, so that blood circulation in the hoof area is stimulated again very quickly.

Okapi HoofCool forte
OKAPI HoofCool forte © Okapi GmbH

The added clinoptilolites bind acids and toxins in the large intestine to reduce the triggers for laminitis. The The frankincense it contains is known for its anti-inflammatory effect and has ong been used successfully in horses with laminitis.

Sulfur (MSM) supports the regeneration of the hoof horn, which is always essential for laminitis candidates to prevent deformation as much as possible. HoofCool should be given at the maximum dosage until the symptoms improve visibly, then the dosage can usually be reduced to about half over a few days.

This amount should be kept constant for 3-4 weeks to support the body during regeneration.

Observe the horse closely during this time. If the gait pattern deteriorates again, the dosage can be increased again and you have to start looking for the causes again, maybe there are other points to consider besides the pasture. If everything goes well, after 3-4 weeks you can then gradually taper off the HoofCool over a period of about a week.

Treatment is good, prevention is better!

  • Change pastures in good time before the horses reach the sod (applies in summer as well as in winter)
  • If possible, offer hay in the pasture from August at the latest, especially if there is little land
  • Close areas early enough and don’t let the horses run around on the short pastures for too long, as the grass gets stresses by being trampled

In addition to the acute care described above, horses with a known tendency to hoof problems should always be viewed holistically, since existing metabolic imbalances often contribute to the development of laminitis at different times.

A possibly unrecognized insulin resistance, cryptopyrroluria or dysbiosis (improper fermentation in the intestine) should always be included in the diagnostic considerations. That’s the only way to help the horse sustainably and in the long term.