The two most dangerous times for laminitis are in the spring and autumn, depending on where you live.
Cooler climates and high altitudes can increase the potential for laminitis as the day and night temperatures fluctuate, along with the amount of sunlight and daylight hours.
For example, if you live in the southern states of Australia, northern states of the USA, Canada, the UK and Europe, you will have more issues with laminitis than tropical zones closer to the equator.
This is not only because the night time temperatures often drop below 5 degrees celsius during spring and autumn (meaning no grass sugar/carb reduction), but the type of grasses (mainly C3) tend to store more sugars and starch than the C4 grasses of more temperate zones.
With higher sugar and starch levels and more grass available in spring, the overall risk of laminitis increases.
So, what can you do to avoid laminitis?
Educate yourself – there are many good resources that explain what laminitis is, how to recognize it, and how to treat it.
From handy, easy to read booklets like Founder Facts to in-depth manuals like Laminitis: Understanding, Cure, Prevention, it’s helpful to have something on hand to refer to at all times.
Both these resources are among the easiest I’ve found to read and learn from, but there are many more good books written by scientists and hoof care professionals that have valuable information.
Know the risk factors and signs of sub-clinical laminitis – and take action before the horse progresses into acute laminitis. Waiting until you see the classical ‘laminitis stance’ is going to be very painful for your horse and result in expensive vet/hoof care bills.
Research has found that fewer than half of horses exhibit a ‘founder stance’ so it’s not a reliable indicator.
Monitor your horse regularly – sometimes it’s hard to see the subtle changes so learn how to body condition score.
Use a weight tape and get another perspective from an experienced friend or equine health professional such as your bodyworker, hoof care provider or vet.
Work out the best diet – get the help of an equine nutritionist if you are not sure exactly what your horse needs for its stage of life.
Feed a mineral supplement that’s high in copper, zinc and other ingredients specific to assisting laminitis (if your horse is prone to it) like Carol Layton’s Balanced Equine HoofXtra Mineral mix.
It’s a good idea to have plenty of grass hay on hand that has low sugar and starch for when your horse is restricted from the grass.
Make sure they are getting plenty of movement and exercise – there’s nothing like exercise to burn up the sugar and starch that otherwise accumulates in the hindgut, producing the toxins that ultimately result in sub-clinical or acute laminitis.
Exercise can be from long track systems with a herd to help move them, being led off another horse, being ridden or driven, or an active play session at liberty.
You could even teach your horse to follow a bicycle if it can’t be ridden or driven – this video shows how.
Lungeing on small circles and running in a small round yard (less than 20m in diameter) should be avoided as regular exercise because too many small circles can cause physical pain and damage to your horse’s legs and body.
Have a safe area to restrict grazing during high-risk times – this should ideally have no grass, but be as large as possible to enable movement.
Bare tracks are ideal, but if you can provide regular (daily) exercise then a dry lot or arena-sized yard will work too.
Maintain their hooves frequently – if you or your hoof care provider are trimming every 4-6 weeks you will notice changes and signs such as hoof rings, red spots (bruising) and hoof flare which can all indicate sub-clinical laminitis.
More serious issues such as a hoof abscess and seedy toe (white line disease) are a red light warning to take action.
Remove the horse from pasture, and/or call the vet or qualified hoof trimmer to assist with treatment and a plan to avoid further problems.
Summing up – Laminitis is the most common cause of lameness and disability in horses and is much easier to prevent than to treat.
Once a horse has ‘foundered’ or had an acute laminitis attack, it will be prone to it recurring for the rest of its life.
Prevention is far better than cure!