Jennifer Little BSc Hons MSc RNutr PgCert
Independent Equine Nutritionist

As an registered independent equine nutritionist based in the north of the UK the first half of 2023 has proved a busy time. The number of acute laminitis cases I received in May 2023 exceeded the total number I received in the entirety of 2022. There are multiple possible causes for a horse to develop laminitis, but the shear number of cases being seen is likely to be associated with the elevated grass growth rates in the UK since mid March. As shown in Figure 1, this years grass growth rate in May has been significantly higher than the average growth rates since 2019. While these growth rates are approaching the average for June, with rain forecast for many areas for the first time in weeks, the rate of grass growth is predicted to escalate again.

Figure 1:

Grass growth and Laminitis

The association with growing fresh grass and laminitis is linked with the levels of soluble
carbohydrate or sugars in a horses diet.

Young short grass has a higher sugar % per kg dry matter than longer more mature grass. If enough sugar is consumed, be that from short sweeter grass or a higher amount of long course grass eaten quickly, it can exceed the level that an individual horse can healthily withstand. In this situation the painful and life threatening condition of laminitis can develop.

Several factors can effect just how much is too much for an individual horse or pony. The vast majority of laminitis cases involve a horse with a hormonal disorder, such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome, insulin dysfunction or PPID (Cushings). Also overweight or obese horses and ponies are more likely to develop laminitis. With over half the UK equine population being either overweight or obese this years grass growth rates pose a real threat to a significant proportion.

To support horses, especially those at higher risk during rapid grass growth periods it maybe necessary to limit access to grass. This can be achieved by reduced turn out time, reducing the available grazing space, using grazing muzzles, removing them from the grass and offering a lower calorie and sugar content forage such as soaked hay instead. If the horse is overweight or obese it is strongly advisable to implement a weight loss plan, and for all horses to monitor for sings and symptoms, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2:

If you think your horses maybe suffering from, or at risk of developing laminitis please consult with your vet to devise a treatment or prevention plan. If your horse is overweight please consult with a nutritionist to create a suitable weight-loss programme.


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