An SOS Guide for Horse Owners
Has your horse become laminitic following a stressful event?
When horses experience mental or emotional stress – a change of home or pasture mates, a frightening event, sudden heavy work, or travel – the adrenal gland goes into overdrive producing cortisol, aldosterone and epinephrine (aka adrenaline). These all serve to support the fight-or-flight response and keep your horse safe.
Unfortunately, for some horses it can become just the right chemical storm to set off a laminitic event within the hoof, which can have devastating and even deadly consequences for your beloved equine companion.
So, your horse has stress-induced laminitis – what now?
It’s essential to jump on to damage control as quickly and thoroughly as possible. You’ll want to bring down inflammation, mop up unwanted bacteria, toxins and other foreign bodies, rebalance and support the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and their associated organs, and restore good blood circulation. You will also need to physically support the hooves while they are in such a fragile state, being highly prone to long-term damage via lamellar attachment mechanism (LAM) failure, hoof wall separation and pedal bone rotation or sinking.
Once you have everything back under control, you can look at supporting your horse’s natural healing process, nutritionally and physically.
Some herbal heroes for stress-induced laminitis:
Cinnamon bark – Helps to improve blood circulation especially microcirculation around the capillaries – including those in the LAM. It also helps moderate blood sugar, and offers antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant support.
Ginger root – Provides gentle heat in the stomach, which can help to restore good digestive function to a horse who is high on cortisol and has lost digestive ‘fire’. It’s also anti-inflammatory, and provides antioxidants.
Willow bark – Horses will seek out willow to help alleviate digestive pain and discomfort. It’s rich in tannins, plus salicylic acid – nature’s aspirin – which will help bring down inflammation, and restore circulation.
Hawthorn berries – These beautiful red berries, a traditional heart tonic, help to improve blood circulation to the peripheries, and support the general integrity of the circulatory system. They’re also packed with free-radical scavengers, and are useful for alleviating stress.
Licorice Root – A primary adrenal tonic, licorice root is sweet without sugar, and soothing on the belly and the nerves. Licorice has been used since at least the times of the ancient Egyptians to improve longevity and youthful vigour, no doubt thanks (at least in part) to its nourishing, balancing and restorative action on the adrenal glands. If you’re looking to lower cortisol naturally, licorice is your herb.
Minerals matter, too.
Magnesium offers huge support for laminitic horses, including anti-inflammatory support, nervous system support and nutritional support.
To support healing, and the rebuilding of strong, healthy hoof laminae, you will want to ensure your horse is receiving plenty of silica, boron, zinc, copper and organic sulphur (msm).
Be aware of potential antagonists
They’re lurking in many a well-intentioned feed and management regime, and while they may not have caused noticeable trouble prior to your horse’s laminitic episode, it’s essential to limit antagonistic factors while your horse is more vulnerable to damage.
Sugar – You’ll need to keep non-structural carbohydrates to a bare minimum. This includes sugars in pasture, hay and hard feeds (as well as treats ☹). Don’t worry though, it’s only temporary… Or is it?… (Warning – your horse’s diet may have been a big disaster waiting to happen – best to consult a nutrition expert and make sure your horse’s diet is foot-friendly, while you’re putting things right).
Medications – Certain medications, including corticosteroids, some deworming medications, and vaccinations, are a laminitis danger. You definitely want to steer clear of them or put them on hold until your horse is in a better way. This includes externally applied medications, which absorb through the skin and head into the bloodstream.
Phosphates – Excess dietary phosphorus and residual superphosphate (on fertilised pasture or hay) can trigger laminitis. They’ll also inhibit the uptake of magnesium as they either bind to it or compete for absorption, which you definitely do not want at this point.
Calcium – Everybody needs calcium, but too much can compete with and reduce uptake of healing magnesium. Try not to overdo it, especially with calcium-rich supplements.
Encourage good gut health with a sound macro-diet.
All horses need an adequate and constant supply of roughage. This helps to prevent hind-gut acidosis, gastrointestinal ulceration and colic. It also reduces stress as the chewing action encourages engagement of parasympathetic nervous system – the ‘rest and digest’ mode. Lastly, different types of fibres feed the good gut bacteria, and encourage alkalinity, which helps to keep toxic bacteria levels in check in the gut, and prevent leaky gut. Just make sure it isn’t dusty or mouldy, and that it is free from toxic weeds, farming chemicals and synthetic fertilizer residues. The best forage is a blend of low-sugar grasses, legume (for amino acids) and herbage.
Amino acids ARE essential.
Even when your horse requires a strictly calorie-controlled diet, they still require a good supply of protein, and in particular the essential amino acids. They are the building blocks of good quality muscle and connective tissue, and they’re also involved in the synthesis of various hormones, transmission of nerve signals, thermogenesis and lipolysis (fat burning).
Support your horse with LAM-friendly farriery.
You’ll want to ensure you have a good farrier on hand, who can help you achieve the right balance of support for your horse’s healing hooves. While too much pressure on the wall will strain the delicate LAM and potentially lead to rotation of sinking, too much padding, particularly under the frog, or a frog which is too elevated to make contact with the ground, will reduce or remove the frog’s natural blood-pumping mechanism, which is vital for good blood circulation throughout the hoof, and a full return to health.
If you’re looking for a botanical blend that is ready-made to provide all of the best that nature has to offer for laminitic horses, Fleet is our go-to blend for this purpose. It’s formulated to alleviate pain, rebalance blood chemicals, facilitate healing, and get your horse back on their feet in almost no time at all.
BioMag is a liquid, readily absorbable magnesium blend, made from high grade, ethically harvested magnesium chloride, from ancient inland salt lakes. It’s dearer than the stuff they chemically synthesise in China, but it’s also free from heavy metal contamination and shady work practices, and just vibes better, being crafted by nature. Our horses love it, and I’m sure yours will too.
If you’re needing to manage stress in a hectic environment, or support a particularly sensitive soul, Zenolyte is a liquid botanical blend, designed to help balance out the impacts of an active and sometimes stressful lifestyle.
Remember to love yourself, too.
Make sure that your horse’s stress laminitis isn’t catching. The stress and trauma of dealing with a sudden and serious health complication is likely to trigger a similar response in your own body, which should be managed with care. Deep stretching is a great aid in removing deep-seated tension, which tends to store itself in muscles after trauma. Breath work can help to bring down cortisol levels, and put your own system back into ‘rest and digest’ mode. And of course, embrace herbs that support your adrenal glands and nervous system, so you can feel better, sooner, too.
Nobody wants to have to deal with laminitis, ever. But, now that you have, hopefully you’ve been able to take some positives from the experience. There is currently an abundance of research and innovation around the best, most holistically beneficial dietary and management practices for horses, so perhaps you will come out of the experience with even healthier horses than before, which is a win for now, and also the future.
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