Hello to you all,
Who would have expected this turn of events, that after we finally get past drought, fire, flood and storms we get hit with Corona Virus !!!!  I hope that things haven’t been too difficult for you and not too many of you have lost jobs or been put into financial difficulty. I hope that instead there was a silver lining for you and that something positive has come out of it all like more time to spend with your horse, family or doing others things you enjoy or have wanted to catch up on while having to “stay at home”. Of course it put the kibosh on clinics for me, at what would have been the busiest time for the year, but I was happy to stay at home and in fact needed to, as we had a lot of challenges to deal with at home which left me with time for very little else. Which is also why you didn’t hear from me during this time.

We have had a very challenging 3-4 mths with the horses getting sore feet after all the rain. I wanted to share about this because it has been such a HUGE learning curve. Whilst being so happy to not be in drought, the rain brought some big challenges. We have so much grass here now it is unbelievable – more grass than I have ever seen here before.  However for the last few months the horses weren’t able to be out grazing on it because it seemed to be causing nearly all of them to have laminitic symptoms. I had to keep all the horses off the grass for most of the time which meant a huge work load and expense (more work and expense than when we were in severe drought) as they had to be locked up ( individual pens and a group loafing area),  fed 5 times a day during the day, with big individual haynets stuffed to keep them going through the night. If  we put big whole round bales out they were getting too wet and then were  wasted, from storms and heavy rains. A  lot of poo had to be picked up and horses hand walked or equissaged.  I didn’t  have time to work with them and many of them were too sore to work with beyond some hand walking. It was a  a huge work load with 17  horses on the place.  (Not all were mine – but Sue and I were managing that many !!!! )

I naievely assumed that it was due to sugars/starches  in the grasses, and this seemed to be confirmed by many people I talked to, including vets,  saying yes there is a lot of laminitis around this season, you’ve just got to keep them off the grass. It certainly was an unbelievable season,  it seemed plants were trying to do three seasons growth in one and many plants were acting as if they were in spring even though we were at the end of summer and going into autumn.  In despair, when after months of management and  it felt like things weren’t improving and we where never going to get out of this situation I was advised by Carol Layton to get blood tests done – to check the cause of the laminitis and see if the horses were actually Insulin Resistant ( IR). Carol said that horses could only be affected by sugars and starches  in the grasses if they were IR.  I got the worst of the horses tested  and the  two who looked the most likely to be considered IR due to  being really good doers, putting on weight easily and having slightly cresty necks. Most of my herd did not fit this criteria.  None of the horses that I got tested were scored as insulin resistant – they were actually extremely low on the spectrum !!!!!!! So it wasn’t the sugars and starches in the grasses that was causing the laminitis symptoms.

Getting the blood tests done was another learning curve in itself. The insulin tests may not have been 100% accurate because the horses were fasted for 4 hrs – during the day. During the day the horses were fed 3.5 – 4 hourly – and when the vet took the blood the horses were due for their feed. The vet had been here for about 2.5 – 3 hrs looking at other horses and doing x- rays and had seen the horses were all in yards and she had been here on several occasions previously and was aware that the horses were locked up for periods of time because we were keeping them off the grass. However, there was no mention that if the horses were fasted the tests might not be accurate.   The day I got the blood test results back  I just let them all out on the grass for  the night. It was such a relief because we just couldn’t keep up this high maintenance management – it was mentally, emotionally and physically taking its toll and I had no time or energy for anything else. So I was just checking digital pulses and observing their soundness for a few days and they all seemed to be fine. I then found out a couple of weeks later that fasted horses might have inaccurate results. Since the horses were doing fine I didn’t retest them and I thought that because they scored so low on the IR scale that they still would have been under the level that would be regarded as insulin resistant.

So if it wasn’t sugar and starch that was the problem, what was going on ? Finally I got some answers from Dr Kellon, a vet in the USA. She said that – even though there is not definite scientific proof at this stage, she believed there  was a very high chance the nitrates in the grasses coming out of drought could be the problem that was causing the foot issues and also that mycotoxins in the grasses could possibly also be affecting their feet. I was aware of the mineral imbalances  that can come  about after drought and in particular the nitrates and also of mycotoxins. I thought these were separate issues along side with the laminitis from sugar /starch.  I had put the horses on a toxin binder for the mycotoxins but didn’t really know what to do about the nitrates. If I had of known these things were the crux of the problems with the feet I could have changed my management  plan and saved a lot of time and money.

I also had a few of the horses front feet x-rayed. One horse in particular had extremely thin soles so the laminitis in this case ( she was also one of the ones I did the IR test on ) was likely due to concussion ( road founder) – even though she was only walking around the paddocks. She was definitely was  not being worked hard on hard ground. She needed to be remedied with boots and pads or shoes.

Also the wet conditions made the horses susceptible to abscessing in the feet – even though none of them presented with the typical  hoof abscess symptoms – eg. being extremely sore on one foot. They basically just looked equally tender on both front feet. So it was very difficult to know when I was experimenting with trying them out for more grazing time whether it was the grasses or a hoof abscesses that were making them sore.

All of this makes me wonder just how many other horses are assumed to be laminitic due to sugars and starches in grasses when in fact there are other reasons/ causes which would need very different management strategies. It has been a big and costly learning curve. Costly in both time and money which is why I  felt it was important to share this. If horses aren’t feeling 100% sound in their body and feet, they are never going to “want to” do what we would like in terms of riding or ground work. This discomfort will bring up all sorts of emotions, resistance and undesirable behaviours. So it is reminder that we always have to look at the whole picture.

The good news is that all of the horses can now be out on the grass all the time, except the ponies who we are still managing and who most likely are insulin resistant (IR). I didn’t get them tested just to save costs – so for now I am just assuming that they are IR because they fit the criteria and have had a history of laminitis in the past.

I had some hay cut from the paddocks at the time all this was happening – so I have sent it off to be mineral tested and will have an idea then of what the mineral balance was at the time all this was happening and I specifically asked for a test on nitrates.   The general advice from Dr. Kellon is that when managing horses coming out of drought (but my thoughts would extend to any time there is high humidity and conditions are right for myotoxins to thrive) to put them on a toxin binder. For the nitrate problem, if the horses are fed at least 50% 0f their fibre ration with hay which is known not to be high in nitrates, then this should alleviate the issue of the nitrate imbalance in the grasses until the minerals come back into more balance. I was also told by a pasture expert that “cat heads” and “pig weed” soak up the nitrates and help the other plants come back into balance as well as break up soil compaction – so a positive aspect to having weeds in your paddocks.

I felt this might be very useful information for others which is why I have taken the time to share it here. You can find out more information and probably get the most accurate and up to date information about laminitis, since Dr. Kellon specializes in this  area, on her website and in her group ECIR ( Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance). There is loads of information there and opportunities to ask questions. Carol Layton ( Balanced Equine) is also very knowledgeable in this area.

The other good news of course  is that with relaxing of restrictions, the courses scheduled in NSW can go ahead. The new rulings have come in just in time for the Macksville  course and also the courses scheduled for “Banyandah” at Howlong, NSW..d as scheduled and also the September/ October courses at “AlchemyPlace” should be right to go ahead as planned.

We have rescheduled the dates for the WA courses to Dec. and the QLD courses we have not yet set a date for when we can go ahead there but we will keep you posted.