Farriers and veterinarians are warning horse owners to be aware that laminitis is still a major concern for horses heading into summer.
“It has been the worst year on record,” natural hoof care practitioner Jen Clingly from Wild About Hooves said.
“Normally at this time of year laminitis cases would be reducing, but this year they’re even more pronounced.”
Longford Equine Centre veterinarian Dr Chris Cornes agreed, saying that it’s “certainly one of the worst” seasons the centre has seen.
He said that a cold, wet spring followed by recent weeks of warm weather has created “a late spring” for grass growth, triggering more laminitis cases later in the season.
Laminitis, or founder, is inflammation of the soft tissue between the hoof wall and the pedal bone, causing severe pain and discomfort.
It can be caused by a number of issues, particularly obesity, high sugar content in grass and feed, and stress.
“Definitely take them off the grass, confine them, and as soon as you take notice that the horse is sore, you’ve really got to act quickly,” Dr Cornes said.
“After 24 hours the changes are already in place, and the response is nowhere near as good.”
Dr Cornes said he generally keeps horses suffering from laminitis on painkillers such as bute for at least ten days, on soft ground in a low-feed paddock with no work.
Laminitic inflammation reduces bloodflow through the hoof capsule, causing more pain and stress if the horse is forced to exercise.
“The hoof and capsule and the bone – the attachments there are disturbed, so if you make the horse exercise you can actually create further breakdown and instability,” Dr Cornes said.
Ms Clingly said laminitis issues are Australia-wide, with farriers bracing for cases to continue well into summer.
“Look for the warning signs ... [horses] carrying excess weight, cresty neck, bulging eyes, being a bit tender-footed,” she said.
Ms Clingley said that for a farrier, red staining in the white line of the hoof is a clear indication, along with stress rings along the coronet band, and the typical rocked-back stance of the foundered horse trying to relieve pressure on their feet.
Both Dr Cornes and Ms Clingley emphasised prevention: keeping a close eye on horses and ponies, moving them to a low-feed paddock or lock-up yard if they gain weight, and reducing feed rations while maintaining bulk hay for gut health.
Ms Clingley recommends soaking hay before feeding to reduce sugar content, and points to her book on hoof health for in-depth information on prevention and awareness.