Here at the World Equestrian Games, I stopped in on a lecture by Dr. Pat Harris, a British expert in laminitis and an authority on equine nutrition.

Harris said two factors seem to show a tendency toward a higher probability of horses getting laminitis. They are:

1)    Increased insulin resistance Ð high glucose may damage the blood vessels leading to and from the foot, making it more prone to laminitis and affecting blood flow.

2)    Obesity.

The research Harris discussed focused on ponies, but all horse owners can likely find value in it since widespread laminitis research across breeds is still nascent. Harris said research shows that to help avoid insulin resistance in ponies, it is probably best to:

1) Avoid grain meals rich in sugar and starch.

2) Restrict grazing on grass for laminitic or laminitic-prone animals. The problem with grass, Harris said, is that the sugar level goes up and down, depending on the time of year, and it can often be quite high. (If you’re going to restrict grazing with a muzzle, Harris said to be careful because horses can’t drink water with a muzzle, and a lack of water can lead to colic. In addition, a muzzle prevents other horses from being able to recognize all-important facial cues for communication.)

In addition, ponies (and by extension, again, perhaps many other types of  horses) appear to have seasonal changes in appetite. For example, ponies in one study gained more weight in the winter with a lower appetite and the same digestibility (sounds like hibernating people, too).

When it comes to being overweight,  ponies Ð and horses in general Ð become overweight for the same reason humans do: eating too much and exercising too little. Like people, horses can have high insulin resistance from having parents and even grandparents who were diabetic.

To keep horses trim, the four factors to follow are:
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