Equine laminitis is a debilitating disease that is commonly found in horses of all ages, breeds and sizes and occurs at any time of the year. 

It has been reported that over 20% of all lameness is due to laminitis and 15% of all deaths are due to this complicated condition. A recent study by the Animal Health Trust puts its prevalence at one in ten horses each year, which is more common than previously recognised and it makes laminitis as common as colic. It is considered by vets to be a medical emergency and the quicker horses receive veterinary help, the better their chances are of a good recovery. Alongside veterinary attention, horses also require hoofcare support from a farrier or qualified practitioner and appropriate day to day management to help them cope with the pain, recover well and optimise the success of their future health. If diagnosis and appropriate management is delayed, pain is prolonged and irreversible damage can occur to the feet.

Alongside veterinary attention, horses also require hoofcare support from a farrier or qualified practitioner

Less than a quarter of horses display the classic leaning back symptom, it is much more likely that a horse will present with shortened strides or lameness at walk. Difficulty in turning is another common symptom, as is a bounding digital pulse. If a horse is in discomfort after routine trimming or shoeing, it is identified as being at high risk of developing laminitis. In addition to this, if horses are trimmed or shod at intervals of greater than 8 weeks, they are also associated with being at a higher risk.

Whilst any breed can suffer from laminitis, it is recognised that native pony breeds suffer from a higher incidence, in particular Welsh, Connemara, New Forest and Shetland Ponies and their cross breeds. Another interesting point from The Animal Health Trust study was that horses that had moved yards within the previous year had higher rates of laminitis compared to horses that hadn’t travelled at all, or those that had travelled for other reasons.


Research is moving on all the time, with veterinary tests being available to help identify at risk animals or those with a predisposing condition. Gut health is another area receiving a great deal of attention, with a faecal test now open direct to horse owners so they can find out if their horse has any gut inflammation or imbalances, which may also be part of the laminitis story. In the first instance, all horse owners should understand appropriate nutrition, practice good weight management, look at their horse’s stride length daily and learn how to feel for a digital pulse. If laminitis is suspected then a good equine vet should always be called immediately.

Natalie Bucklar

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Natalie has owned horses for over 30 years and owned East Devon Riding Academy near Sidmouth. She has previously lectured in Equine Science to degree level and produced research for preparing Great Britains' equestrian teams for the Olympics. Natalie provides consultations in all aspects of Equine Science, and has fitted saddles for competitors at Badminton International Horse Trials.