In the Spring of 2009 I received a call from Megan who was clearly very distressed about her mustang Solo who was battling severe laminitis. Three years later I am happy to say that Solo is back, fit, happy and sound. But as you will read it was a battle for both him and Megan.
As yet again we enter the Spring laminitis season I wanted to share their story in Megan’s words to give hope to those of you who may find yourself in her situation. Solo’s laminitis was not brought on by pasture but regardless of the cause, dealing with laminitis is an emotional and painful ordeal.
So at this time of year when the risk of pasture laminitis is high, I cannot stress enough to be vigilant in watching your horses as the pasture grasses come in, especially for those whose horses are currently over weight or of breeds known to be at greater risk of laminitis such as our ponies, Morgans, Arabs, Paso Finos, Mustangs etc. Watch for increases in weight, crest fat, heat in the hoof walls, and digital pulses. Limit initial access to pasture. Do not graze at risk horses on cool season grass pastures after nights where the temperature falls below 40 degrees, or at the end of the afternoon when the weather has been bright and sunny. These weather conditions result in higher sugar contents. Consider the use of grazing muzzles and feed some hay before turnout to limit gorging.
A good option for the transition phase is a hindgut buffer called EquiShure made by Kentucky Equine Research. This product is proven to help maintain hindgut pH which can become acidic when large quantities of easily fermentable pasture grass are eaten. This acidic environment can cause beneficial bacteria to die off resulting in toxins that can cross into the blood stream potentially causing laminitis or colic. Equishure may be purchased from http://www.kerx.com/products/EquiShure/ and using discount code CT001 provides a 10% discount at checkout. Call KER to set up repeat shipping and use the same code for a 15% discount.
If these management strategies are not enough you may be faced with the hard reality that perhaps your horse should not have access to pasture. Laminitis can be a death sentence. Luckily for Solo it wasn’t but it was certainly a close call. Here is Solo’ s story.
"A few years ago my husband and I moved our horses to a new home and, due to an overwhelming work schedule, stopped riding as much. The horses seemed happy enough to hang out with each other on their dry lot, with a little arena work and walks down the road. However, our 17 hand mustang Solo (likely draft in the mix), had finally stopped growing and as the boss horse and extremely speedy eater, quickly gained weight. We tried to limit his intake and exercise him most. All the horses were on what we thought was a very healthy diet: the best quality grass hay we could find, with vitamin/mineral/herb supplements as we thought best, and carrot treats, which we thought were safe. Solo suddenly seemed famished all the time. We got Solo as a weanling and through the years he had proven himself to have excellent sense (mustang instincts we supposed) about what was and wasn’t safe to eat. But he began trying frantically to eat poisonous leaves, acorns, etc. that we knew weren’t safe for him. We were very concerned by this behavior. He was by no means a starved horse. We did not realize that this crazed grumpy hunger was a symptom of insulin resistance.
On a warm spring day, I went out and Solo was clearly in pain, rocking back off his front feet. Before this, I had often checked his hooves for pulses/heat, any signs of soreness because I saw fat pockets developing on him and had learned that Mustangs are susceptible to metabolic issues. He hadn’t been lame, had had no hoof heat or pulses, had never abscessed or colliced. He had wonderful large barefoot mustang feet. We had the vet out immediately, put Solo in a stall with deep shavings and foam pads on his hooves. Solo had mild pulses and did not respond to hoof testers. We were hopeful that with stall rest, icing, pads and anti-inflammatories, he might recover in a matter of days. Solo did test positive for insulin resistance and the vet gave us a specific amount of hay to give him, and a drug called thyro-l to help jump start his metabolism. Our vet was cautiously optimistic that we’d “dodged a bullet”. Unfortunately, we hadn’t.
Solo’s coffin bones began to sink…and sink. It soon became clear through x-rays that Solo was a “sinker”. Commonly considered the most lethal and difficult type of founder to treat, the lamina attaching the hooves die all the way around the hoof which leaves the coffin bone loose in the hoof, so it sinks downward. Solo’s coffin bone dropped all the way down below his hoof wall (making his sole convex), which was a long way down as he started with nice thick soles. We were shocked and overwhelmed with sadness, fear and guilt. His x-rays showed significant gas lines where the lamina had died off. Our beautiful boy was down 20 plus hours a day, yet still had the will to eat and drink.
We spent much of our days and nights caring for him and researching what we could do with this dire prognosis. We were fortunate to have an exceptional vet who went above and beyond in every way he could to help Solo. After much discussion and research, we were terrified we might have to put him down. However, we had found one study where several horses healed from extreme sinking and gas lines. Because Solo seemed to still have the will to fight, we decided to continue to try everything we could to keep him on a healing path. We spent so many hours a day in the stall with him that we tried to trust he would let us know when he no longer had the will to live.
It was during this very dark time for us and our gelding that I first contacted Dr. Thunes. We have no doubt that the support she offered us was absolutely integral in saving Solo’s life. I still feel so much pain when I think about the state Solo was in when I called Clair. I had been so frantic and overwhelmed once Solo got sick that it took a couple weeks to call her. It made perfect sense: she was a specialist in equine nutrition. The specifics of why it was so important to bring her on as a part of our team became crystal clear the first time I spoke to her.
Clair told me about an “emergency diet” for laminitic horses and why it was a recommended first step in the treatment plan. She told me that we would pull together the very best tested hay we could for Solo’s needs, combined with proper amounts of minerals and vitamins to create a balanced diet, (or, as I understood it, a diet that would help cleanse and restore his system). She provided me with important studies and articles to read. Clair offered advice about food, vitamin/mineral and herbal aids that have been effective in treating issues such as circulation, inflammation, weight reduction, pain, anxiety, ulcers, etc. in horses. She also told me about her own mustang sporthorse, who was once acutely laminitic, and has gone on to lead a healthy and athletic life. Clair’s wealth of information, based on thorough reputable scientific studies, and years of experience, gave us hope. We knew if we had any chance of making Solo comfortable and helping him heal, this certainly would help; and how very true that turned out to be.
When Solo was able to stand for a longer period, our vet put wooden clogs on him, with a carved out area to provide relief for the coffin bone. These clogs, coupled with the dietary changes, seemed to make Solo much more comfortable than we would have dared hope. From the beginning, Clair and our vet insisted that diet, hoof trim and exercise when the horse is able all contribute to the healing process. With sinkers it can be very difficult to keep pain and infection at bay to allow for the much-needed exercise to begin. Nutrition is a key factor in making this healing of the whole horse possible.
Every time we look at Solo, we appreciate fully the help we have received. Solo is once again sound, comfortable and happy. We knew from the beginning it was a going to be a long haul and it has been a lot of work, but it has been worth it. Our vet told us that it would take several re-growths of Solo’s hooves for us to really see recovery. We have taken x-rays to chart his progress and try to trim to best help his hooves rebuild. His hooves are now strong and his hoof wall attachment is great. He has not abscessed, had infections or hoof cracks. His soles have re-grown to support his coffin bone once again. His tendons are in good shape. We hear many stories of horses not so fortunate, of farriers and vets frustrated because the horse’s diet is not conducive to growing healthy feet.
We firmly believe that the nutritional support we received from Clair helped make Solo’s recovery possible. Solo’s weight, circulation, general health and demeanor were all significantly changed once Clair found appropriate hay for Solo and created a balanced diet to offer him the nutritional support he needed to recover and thrive. I have heard it said that in every problem there is a gift. Through Solo’s illness, we have learned how to better care for him and all our horses. I am deeply thankful for this. Every horse has its own nutritional needs; sometimes it’s difficult to see that a horse’s diet is not working until something goes horribly wrong. Also, sometimes it takes the most catastrophic events in life to fully appreciate the great doctors out there. Clair certainly proved herself to be one, for us and for Solo."
If your horse battles with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance or laminitis and you would like help with nutritional management please contact us. We would be honored to help.
Solo's fight against laminitis by Summit Equine Nutrition LLC and Dr. Clair Thunes PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.