04 May Managing Laminitis-Prone Horses in Autumn
With Autumn upon us and winter rains starting, there will be a few fresh, sweet green shoots coming through in our paddocks.
If you have a horse prone to laminitis, Autumn can be a very risky time! We’ve covered what laminitis is with Dr Brad Hampton in a previous blog post. A lot of people think of spring as the riskiest time of year for laminitic horses and ponies, but did you know that autumn and winter conditions can pose just as much risk?
Autumn Weather & NSC:
When grasses (both C3 and C4) have a flush of growth and are exposed to bright sunlight and dropping temperatures like we see in autumn, they accumulate Sugar and Starches or Non Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) in their leaves. This increases the risk to laminitic and insulin resistant horses, as simple sugars and starch are digested in the foregut and can raise blood insulin levels.
What are NSC? They’re are the total amount of sugar, starch and fructans measured in a feed source. They can be determined by adding the Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC – simple sugars and fructans) to starch.
Fructans & Frost:
Fructans are important when we talk about laminitis, as they are highly fermentable in the hindgut and when consumed in high volumes can lead to laminitis through endotoxins. Fructan levels in grass change throughout the day, and are usually at their highest in the afternoons due to photosynthesis. However, frosty nights can slow down the metabolism of pastures. This means that the fructan levels can still be very high in the mornings. If you have to graze your laminitis-prone horse, make sure you watch the conditions and try to restrict the grazing to safer times.
A pasture that is under stress, i.e. pasture that is coming out of drought or pasture affected by frost can accumulate higher levels of NSC and be more dangerous to laminitic horses and ponies. Autumn often covers both of these, because pastures are coming out of a hot summer and receiving their first rains for growth as well as getting their first frosts.
So how do you manage this?
our top tips for autumn grazing management:
1. Seriously Restrict Grazing Time:
Try to restrict your horse’s grazing time as much as possible. This is very important for pastures that have received recent rains, or are within a growth phase. Pasture during autumn is very risky to laminitic horses in many ways, so the safest bet is to strictly limit grazing time.
2. Graze inside ‘safe’ times and conditions:
The safest time to graze is first thing in the morning, NSC are at their lowest. Aim to take your horse or pony off pastures within a few hours of the sun coming up. If you do let them out onto pasture – try to make sure they have a full belly of hay first, they’ll be less likely to gorge themselves on grass!
3. If in doubt it is better to have them on suitable hay
If you are worried about grazing, it is safer to keep your horse or pony locked off grass, and feed meadow hay instead. You might need to add Vitamin E and Vitamin C if they haven’t had access to green feed for a while though.
4. Be aware of the sugar and starch in your feed
Make sure any hay and hard feed is suitable for laminitic horses and ponies, i.e. feeds that have low Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC – Sugar & Fructans.) Meadow and lucerne hay tend to have lower WSC. A feed like T&R’s Clayton’s Pellets is also low in WSC and suitable for inclusion.
A laminitis supplement can also help your horses through these risky seasons. We stock Dodson & Horrell’s Lami-Free Herbal Supplement, which supports the laminae, and can maintain and repair the hoof tissue that is effected by laminitis.