As dedicated horse owners, we strive to provide our equine companions with the best care possible. One critical aspect of horse health that requires careful consideration is laminitis—a painful and potentially debilitating condition affecting the hooves. While nutrition and hoof care are central to avoiding laminitis, exercise is equally pivotal. Striking the right balance between activity and rest promotes equine well-being.
Laminitis involves inflammation of the laminae, the delicate tissues connecting the hoof wall to the coffin bone. Factors such as metabolic issues, systemic illnesses or over-consumption of starch from the bucket feed or sugars and fructans from the forage can trigger laminitis, leading to pain, lameness, and potential structural damage to the hooves.
Exercise is a double-edged sword when it comes to managing laminitis risk. On one hand, regular, controlled movement can promote overall health, enhance circulation and contribute to weight management. On the other hand, excessive exercise on hard ground can increase the risk of concussive laminitis.
Finding the Right Balance
Regular, Controlled Movement – Regular exercise is beneficial for horses, helping to maintain a healthy weight, improve circulation and support overall well-being. Incorporating controlled turnout and engaging in low-intensity exercise can aid in managing the risk of obesity. Controlled movement allows the horse to maintain joint mobility and supports the health of the entire musculoskeletal system.
Avoidance of High-Impact Activities – Horses prone to or recovering from laminitis should avoid high-impact activities, such as fast galloping or jumping, especially on harder ground, which can exert excessive pressure on the hooves. Instead, focus on low-impact exercises that promote improved circulation without placing undue stress on the compromised laminae.
Consistent Monitoring – Regularly monitoring your horse’s comfort level during exercise is crucial. Pay attention to any signs of lameness, reluctance to move or changes in gait. If you notice any abnormalities, it’s essential to reassess the exercise routine and consult with your veterinarian to identify the cause of the pain and adjust the plan accordingly.
Consultation with Veterinary Professionals – Every horse is unique, and their response to exercise may vary. Consulting with a veterinarian and an experienced trainer can help tailor an exercise program that aligns with your horse’s needs, considering factors such as age, health status and fitness level.
Exercise Considerations Based on Laminitis Severity
For horses with a history of mild laminitis episodes or those at risk, emphasis should be on controlled, low-impact exercise. Gentle walking on soft surfaces can encourage blood flow without exacerbating hoof discomfort. Gradual introduction to hand-walking or controlled turnout on softer ground, like in a sand pen or arena, provides an opportunity for movement without undue stress.
Horses in the recovery phase from acute laminitis may benefit from a structured rehabilitation program. This may involve controlled, short sessions of walking followed by gentle trotting, gradually increasing as the horse’s condition improves. Regular consultations with a veterinarian are beneficial during this phase to ensure that the exercise regimen aligns with the recovery trajectory.
Horses dealing with chronic laminitis may require a more specialised exercise plan. Work closely with your veterinarian to strike the right balance between maintaining mobility and avoiding pain. Consistent monitoring, regular farrier visits, and adjustments to the exercise routine based on the horse’s condition are key components of managing chronic laminitis.
Additional Tips for Laminitis Management
Maintain a Healthy Weight – Obesity is a significant risk factor for laminitis. A balanced diet and appropriate exercise are pivotal in maintaining an ideal body condition. Work with a nutritionist to establish a feeding plan that supports weight management.
Proper Hoof Care – Regular farrier visits are essential for any horse, particularly those prone to laminitis. Corrective trimming and shoeing can help alleviate pressure on the hooves and promote proper alignment, contributing to overall hoof health.
Nutritional Support – Use feeds with a low sugar and starch content to support horses at risk of or recovering from laminitis. Specialised high fibre feeds that cater to the unique nutritional needs of horses can be balanced and digestible options. Speak to a nutritionist to help you select an appropriate feed for your horse.
A customised approach based on your horse’s specific needs is best for navigating the delicate balance between laminitis and exercise. Regular, controlled movement is a cornerstone of equine health, but it must be carefully adapted to the individual circumstances of a horse at risk of or recovering from laminitis. Collaborate with your veterinarian, farrier, and nutritionist to create a holistic plan that prioritises your horse’s well-being. By finding the right equilibrium between activity and rest, you can contribute to your equine companion’s overall health and happiness.