Reading time 4 minutes

Laminitis can always happen, horses are not only at risk of laminitis in spring but also in autumn. Excessive use of the areas – grazing when the grass is grazed down to the ground, trampling by too many horses that continue to run around on grazed areas, and using pastures even over the winter – as well as drought or excessive rain stress the pastures. This leads to stress-resistant grasses proliferating over time. Unfortunately, these grasses not only have increased sugar and fructan levels (increasing the risk of laminitis) but are also often infected by endophytes, which produce substances toxic to horses (even higher risk of laminitis). This raises the risk of laminitis, especially in autumn and early winter. Therefore, it’s important to keep a close eye on your horse’s hoof health to recognise early signs of laminitis.

10 early warning signs that may indicate developing laminitis:

1. Foot-soreness – on hard ground or gravel, and especially if horses start being sore even on soft ground (like the meadow or arena), avoiding hard or stony surfaces, preferring to walk on the grass strip or completely refusing to walk on hard or stony ground.

© Nadine Haase / Adobe Stock

2. Pain when turning – the horses may prefer to turn on a bigger, rounded arc instead of turning on the spot.

3. Hard, hot neck crest – if the neck suddenly swells “overnight” and/or becomes hot, you must stay cautious.

4. Pulsation of the leg arteries – if you can feel the pulse very clearly in the area of the fetlock joint.

5. Swollen triple heater ting point – the starting point of the meridian “triple warmer”, also called San Jiao, is on the coronet band exactly in the front center of the front hoof. If a slight dent is felt here, everything is fine. If this point swells and becomes a small “bump,” you should be warned.

Short gait – the gait becomes choppy, and the length of the stride shortens as the horse no longer wants to rotate over the toe.

7. Stretched or widened white line, bruising in the hoofsole – the white line and the sole can be clearly seen when cleaning the hoof with a dandy brush and water. If there are “haematomas” or if the white line is wider than normal, it’s a clear indication.

8. Hot hooves – hooves normally are warm immediately after riding or exercise. If they remain significantly warmer for a longer period or are significantly warmer after longer rest periods (dozing, stabling overnight) in comparison to other horse’s hooves, this can be a sign of inflammation in the hoof area.

9. Increased respiratory rate, increased heart rate – this does not necessarily indicate an infection or respiratory problems but can also be an expression of pain, especially in combination with a changed gait (as mentioned above).

10. Alternating relief of the hooves – especially if the horse constantly shifts weight from one leg to the other, tries to stand with the front hooves in soft sand or on an edge so that the tip of the hoof floats freely.

If you notice any of these early warning signs in your horse, you should definitely consult a specialist to intercept the problem at an early stage, if possible. It is better to call the therapist or veterinarian too often than to overlook the onset of laminitis!