Winter … temperatures fall and the ground is frozen solid. While most horses don’t have any problems in these harsh conditions and seem to enjoy the cold weather, some horses suffer from painful hooves and stumble through their pasture or paddock. Why?
Sore feet on frozen, rutted ground?
For horses that don’t have healthy hooves in the first place and won’t walk easily on hard, uneven surfaces, the sensitivity is easy to explain. If you can’t offer these horses softer ground to walk on, it is advisable to help them by using hoof boots. This way they will keep on moving, which is beneficial for the blood circulation in the hoof and will aid in their recovery. On top of that, it helps to prevent bruising, abscessing and other sole and frog related problems.
Walking on hard, frozen ground can give the last push to horses that already have compromised lamellar connections, causing the horse to develop traumatic laminitis.
If you can provide your horse a soft surface (for example an indoor riding arena) it is good to let the horse move around there quietly, optionally on hoof boots. This stimulates circulation to, and in the hooves.
Could it be acute laminitis?
If your horse shows obvious clinical signs of acute laminitis try to find out whether the problem could have been caused by food. Give the horse only hay with a low sugar content on a temporary basis. If you do not know the sugar content, you can have your hay tested to find out nutrient, sugars and carbohydrate/starch levels. On the other hand, food shortage even if it is brief can lead to hyperlipidemia. All the more reason to provide enough hay. Always have a salt lick and magnesium supplement available.
Could it be winter laminitis?
If your horse has sore feet during the cold winter months, it could have winter laminitis. Winter laminitis or what can more accurately be called ‘winter-related hoof pain syndrome’ is caused by a sudden drop in temperature which causes the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that has a narrowing effect on blood vessels. The body also produces more cortisol in times of stress. A healthy body produces more thyroid hormones in the fight against the cold which also reduces blood flow to the hooves. The reduced circulation causes pain, a pain that won`t be helped by the horse walking on frozen, bumpy ground. Pain and now the stress response, leads to an increased cortisol production, and this creates a vicious cycle.
Your winter laminitic horse will benefit from being kept warm. If possible, keep a good quality waterproof fleece blanket on them. Quilted shipping wraps on their legs and even hoof boots with wool socks can help.
One of the most frustrating things about winter laminitis is that it often appears to come out of nowhere. If you are aware of the warning signs, early intervention is possible. Supporting blood flow can help protect your horse before disaster strikes.
Which horses are most at risk?
Horses with Cushing’s syndrome or Equine Metabolic Syndrome/insulin resistance often suffer from winter laminitis, as well as horses with damaged blood vessels due to being laminitic in the past. All preventative measures that you take for these types of horses will by definition turn out to be beneficial with regard to winter laminitis.
What medications, supplements and therapies are available?
Your veterinarian may prescribe L-arginine. This amino acid has a widening effect on blood vessels.
An herbal therapist may prescribe cinnamon, rhodiola (golden root), ginger root, or jiaogulan. These herbs have widening properties. Ginger root also inhibits the production of cortisol and has both a stress-reducing and an analgesic effect. Jiaogulan also supports vascular nitric oxide production, which improves blood delivery to the extremities and hooves. Do not start using these herbs at random. An herbal therapist will tell you the correct dosage and informing you about possible interactions with any other medications your horse receives.
Magna Wave PEMF therapy can be very helpful for horses suffering from winter laminitis. It helps to increase circulation and provide pain relief.
Manual lymphatic drainage stimulates blood circulation. You can also give your horse a massage yourself. Due to his aching feet his entire body may be tensed. The relaxation and improved circulation that a massage brings, will have an overall positive effect.
Blood flow to the hoof can be stimulated with rosemary and juniper oil. Only use pure essential oils. Mix ten drops of rosemary oil and five drops of juniper oil with 100 ml. jojoba oil. Massage the entire leg up to and including the coronary band on a daily basis. Do not treat the hoof itself as the essential oils might dry out the hoof.
Time may help to heal the ill of “winter laminitis”. The clinical signs and the suffering will gradually decrease when weather conditions get better. Circulation will improve and pain will be reduced.
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