Laminitis is one of the most common causes of lameness and disability in horses and ponies, which is why you need to pay careful attention to keep your horse clear of it. It tends to affect some horses more than others, so if yours fits the characteristics of a horse likely to be prone to laminitis, you need to be especially careful.

So what is laminitis?

First, it is not an infection or fungus. It is a disease that affects the bones in the horse’s foot, making it lame, and eventually unable to support itself.

The exact causes of laminitis are unknown, but it is known that certain conditions put some horses at a higher risk of getting laminitis than others.

The most common of these is obesity and overeating. Some horses get a little exercise and have nothing to do all day but eat. We are all bombarded by advertising for horse feed, which not all horses need. And after the winter, grass begins to grow again, and some horses just don’t need too much. Native ponies in particular don’t need to eat too much, and can’t cope with highly fertilized cattle pasture.

Laminitis can also occur where there is pre-existing toxemia, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, or colic. These conditions need to be treated before the laminitis.

Any sort of trauma to the foot can be the start of laminitis, such as jumping an unfit horse on a hard surface. Ill-fitting shoes can also be a problem, so make sure they are checked and changed regularly by a farrier. He will also look for and trim any growth on or near the foot that might cause discomfort or lameness. Stress can also be damaging, such as hard exercise in an unfit horse, or extremes of hot and cold when traveling.

Older horses may be at risk, mainly because of hormonal changes – they may be unable to shed a winter coat in the spring, and may become susceptible to laminitis. There’s also evidence that giving corticosteroid drugs to some stressed animals may put them at risk.

So, it’s important to keep a check on your horse’s weight and not overfeed – this means grass as well as hard feed. Check with a vet if you are worried that your horse might be overweight. Don’t over-exercise an unfit horse, or jump and train on hard surfaces for too long. And make sure the farrier sees your horse regularly as this should identify any problems early on.