Danger in the Grass

Spring pastures are picturesque — and, for our horses, tasty. But too much of a good thing can spell trouble in the form of laminitis, explains Leah Hinnefeld.

From Leah:

A paddock carpeted with lush, green, sugar-filled grass is the equivalent of an all-you-can eat buffet for our equines — unless a proper pasture and turnout management program is implemented.

As responsible horse owners we need to educate ourselves on the potential dangers of spring grass. When people eat too much sugar, we increase our risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. When a horse eats too much sugary grass he is at risk for developing insulin resistance. In either case, the results can be health compromising and even deadly.

How do you know if your horse is in trouble?

Signs of acute laminitis:

  • Reluctance or inability to walk
  • Shifting of weight
  • Increased respiratory rate and/or heart rate
  • Weight shifted onto hind limbs with front feet camped out
  • Expression of discomfort
  • Heat in hooves
  • Throbbing digital pulse

Check out this video demonstrating how to evaluate your horse’s digital pulse:

If your horse develops a digital pulse, consider his condition a potential veterinary emergency and remove him from all pasture and contact your vet. A digital pulse is an indication of inflammation in the hoof. Inflammation in a horse hoof is an indication of laminitis.

Laminitis is actually a problem that goes far beyond the hoof of the horse. It is a condition that effects the connective tissue throughout the entire body of the horse. The body-wide inflammation may present in ways that can be mistaken for other equine health concerns.

If you notice that the grass is looking greener on this side of the fence and you notice any of the following symptoms, please consider removing your horse from his pasture,  contact your vet and check your horse daily for the development of a digital pulse:

  • saddle fit or bridling/bitting issues
  • hoof cracks or thrush
  • sudden development of flares or long toes and low heels
  • sudden development of high heels or a ‘coke can’ appearance of the hoof
  • stifle issues or sacrum soreness
  • spooking or new behavioral issues

If you remove your horse from all pasture and any of the symptoms subside, it might be time to create a dry lot/paddock and research ways to portion his hay so that he is able to ‘graze’ throughout the day.

Don’t let spring growth catch you in a winter slumber when it comes to being aware of physical and emotional changes in your horse. Your horse will thank you for your extra effort to make sure his spring is also one that includes wonderful thoughts and dreams of shows and trails.

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at http://theathleticrider.com/.


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