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Laminitis is a term that all of us will be familiar with, and one that we hope we never hear in relation to our own horse. Unfortunately, it is a common condition which causes extreme pain in horses and ponies and can cause lifelong damage.

According to the Royal Veterinary College (University of London), laminitis is a condition that “affects the tissues (laminae) bonding the hoof wall to the pedal bone in the hoof. This can result in the pedal bone sinking or rotating within the hoof under the weight of the horse. In extreme cases, this can result in penetration of the sole of the foot by the pedal bone. More than 7% of equine deaths are linked to laminitis, with many animals having to be euthanised.”

Laminitis is usually seen in the front hooves, but it can also affect all four hooves.



Any horse or pony can develop laminitis during their lifetime. However, some are more prone to it than others.

Up to 90% of laminitis episodes are linked to an underlying hormonal disorder, such as Equine Cushings Disease and Equine Metabolic Syndrome.

If your horse is overweight this can lead to laminitis developing.

Excess feeding of concentrates in one meal can lead to inflammatory laminitis due to an overload in the digestive system of undigested sugar and starch leading to toxins developing.

There are other potential causes of inflammatory laminitis. These can include, but are not limited to, retained placenta in a mare after foaling, colic and inflammation of the lungs.

Laminitis can also be caused if a horse is severely lame for some time. This can lead to the supporting leg getting laminitis because of the extra weight bearing on it.

Lastly, laminitis can occur from mechanical issues. This can be incorrect trimming/shoeing, too much work on hard ground and various other contributing problems.


Signs to Look Out For

  • Laminitic stance. This is when the horse has rocked back on their hind legs to take the weight off their painful front hooves;

  • Abnormal warmth of the hoof and/or the coronet band;

  • Unusual reluctance to pick up feet;

  • Looking stiff and/or with a shorter, shuffling stride;

  • Shifting weight from one foot to another;

  • Not wanting to turn easily;

  • Change in temperament and behaviour because of the pain;

  • General lameness.


Note: this is a stock picture used to illustrate one of the tell-tale signs of laminitis. We do not recommend feeding horses cut grass.

Stages of Laminitis

There are three stages that you need to be aware of:

  • Subclinical Laminitis. This is when small changes within the hoof are starting. The clinical signs, if any, will be very subtle;

  • Acute Laminitis. You will see that your horse is in pain and is likely to show signs of lameness;

  • Chronic Laminitis. This is where there are changes within the hoof which your vet will see on x-ray. There may be changes to the outside of the hoof by this stage, such as rings on the outer



Laminitis is an emergency so you should ring your vet immediately.

While you wait for the vet, try to make your horse as comfortable as possible. This might involve making an extra deep bed, preferably on soft shavings, in their stable or trying to limit their movement in the field if you are unable to get them into a stable.

Your vet is likely to treat your horse with painkillers in the first instance. Your vet and farrier will then need to work closely together to manage the condition moving forward.



  • Make sure that your horse is the correct weight;

  • Restrict grazing;

  • Do not over rug your horse as this can lead to excess weight gain;

  • Slow down feeding, if possible, with trickle feeders, hay nets and hay balls etc;

  • Keep your horse as fit and healthy as possible;

  • Check feet daily;

  • Feed correctly. Maybe talk to an equine nutritionist for more specific help;

  • Be aware of the signs of laminitis;

  • Seek appropriate veterinary treatment for Equine Cushings Disease or Equine Metabolic Syndrome.


Laminitis is a complicated and broad subject and we have only given some very basic facts about it. Please contact your vet if you have any concerns about your horse or pony having laminitis.


How to Check Your Horse’s Weight


There are four main ways to gauge your horse’s weight. Some methods are more accurate than others, but all should give you a good idea.


  • Use livestock scales. This is obviously the most accurate way of weighing your horse.

  • Weight tape. This tape is specifically designed to give you an idea of your horse’s weight once measured. Place the tape just behind the withers and allow it to drape around both sides and under the body where the girth usually sits. Once it is in place a measurement can be read from the tape.

  • An online calculator can be used to work out the weight. You will need to take a measurement of your horse’s girth area and his length, then once inputted into the calculator a weight will

  • By eye. Study your horse and then compare them to a Fat Score Chart. We particularly like the chart that Dengie feeds has on their website.

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