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Weight Watching for the Laminitis Prone Horse

The latest studies suggest the incidence of laminitis in the UK is 3%. With just under 1 million horses in the UK, that means 30,000 will be affected by this painful condition.

Although research has improved our understanding of the causes of laminitis, it seems to have done very little to reduce the number of cases. One key reason might be that there is an increase in the number of overweight or even obese horses and ponies.

The dilemma seems to be that, although most owners appreciate that their horses or ponies are at an increased risk of laminitis if overweight, they seem to find it very difficult to diet them effectively.

This might be because many people simply don’t realise where the calories (energy) is coming from. We’ll count some calories in a typical ration shortly, but first it is worth understanding a little more about the link between obesity and laminitis.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome is a name used to describe a range of symptoms, including insulin resistance, obesity and recurrent laminitis.

Research in humans in the 1990s demonstrated that adipose (fat) tissue isn’t just an inert store – it can actually develop the ability to secrete hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers in the body and it is known that adipokines (hormones produced by the adipose tissue) can affect immune function, inflammation, tumour development and glucose regulation.

Keeping blood glucose levels within normal ranges involves a number of hormones, one of which is insulin. If the function of insulin is compromised, it is referred to as insulin resistance.

Insulin facilitates the removal of glucose from the blood, so insulin resistance can result in blood sugar levels remaining elevated despite more and more insulin being produced.

It is thought that over-exposure to insulin and glucose can damage the cells lining the blood vessels (endothelial cells). Because these are responsible for the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, the link between insulin resistance and laminitis becomes apparent.

So what can you do?

If your horse is overweight, you need to embark on a weight-loss plan. The main source of energy in most horses’ diets is grass – eight hours’ grazing time on average spring pasture will supply enough energy for a 500kg horse.

So, if you haven’t already limited turnout time, it is highly likely that you will need to do so. There are various ways in which you can limit access to grass, including stabling, limiting the area available and using a grazing muzzle.

How effective are grazing muzzles?

There have been very few studies investigating how effective grazing muzzles are, but Tracey Hammond MSc (Dist), a Dengie nutritionist, carried out a study for her masters degree dissertation.

Although the trial was small-scale, the reduction in intake was between 75 and 85 per cent, which would have a significant impact on the amount of energy consumed.

The added benefit is that horses can still be turned out, which is better for their respiratory system and allows them to interact with other horses and move around more, which will use more energy than if they are stood in a stable.

Click here to read more about the study.

Calorie counting

It is also important not to be tempted to treat overweight horses with a sprinkling of cubes or mix in their feed. You might be surprised to learn that half a scoop of mix provides enough energy to support 20 minutes’ schooling and, if cubes are used, this increases to 50 minutes because they are heavier, so half a scoop provides more.

Benefits of exercise

Although it can often seem that however much work you do with your horse it doesn’t seem to lose weight, it is important to keep doing it. It might be that the exercise you are doing is being counteracted by not reducing calorie intake sufficiently, so this has to be addressed.

It is also important to consider that, even if the horse isn’t losing weight, exercise might help to maintain sensitivity to insulin, as has been found to be the case in humans. Therefore, even if the horse isn’t losing weight, exercise could help to avoid insulin resistance and laminitis.

The Laminitis Trust

Dengie has four products approved by The Laminitis Trust, more than any other feed company. Every Dengie fibre feed is based on alfalfa, which not only provides lots of essential fibre for keeping the digestive system healthy, but is also naturally low in starch and sugar, making it ideal for individuals prone to laminitis.

Abundant in vitamins and minerals, alfalfa supplies essential nutrients that your horse or pony needs to keep it in top condition.

The table below should help you to choose which product is best for your horse or pony but, if you would like more further advice or information, call our friendly feedline on 01621 841 188 or chat live online to a nutritionist.


Feed Suitable for…
Healthy Hooves Molasses Free
  • Individuals with bad hooves
  • No added sugar, low in starch
  • Complete fibre feed with B vitamins including Biotin
  • Suitable for horses and ponies in light work
Hi-Fi Lite
  • Overweight individuals
  • A partial or complete hay replacer
Hi-Fi Molasses Free
  • Lowest combined calorie, sugar & starch product in the range
  • No added sugar
  • Contains mint & fenugreek for fussy feeders
  • Individuals with EMS
Alfa-A Molasses Free
  • Underweight individuals or those that struggle to maintain condition
  • Horses in harder work
  • No added sugar, low in starch


Jake’s Story

Jake, an eight-year-old Connemara, has always been a good-doer. When he was diagnosed with EMS, his owner Emma knew she had to take action.

“I arranged for a Dengie nutritionist to visit and weigh Jake. He was given a personalised diet-plan of Healthy Hooves Molasses Free and we’ve not looked back! Jake now weighs a healthy 417kg – he’s lost an incredible 99kg in the last 12 months! He loves his feeds, is healthy, happy and in great condition.” Emma Williams from Essex

To read more about Jake’s weight loss story click here