It’s cold, the ground is hard and your horse stumbles a bit. Then it makes sense to think it’s through the subsurface, right? While it is certainly possible that your horse is sensitive to walking because the bottom is frozen stiff, something else could be going on. Especially if you also see that something is wrong in the stable or in the arena. Your horse can also get laminitis in winter. Another possibility is winter hoof pain or winter laminitis. What’s up with that?
Most horse owners know the risk of laminitis, which is caused by young and fast growing grass in the spring. The high fructan content of young grass can cause the painful condition. But your horse can also get laminitis in winter! Another hoof condition is winter hoof pain, which is caused by the cold weather changing the hormone balance of your horse. It is important to know what exactly is going on as the treatment of the two problems is very different.
Laminated in winter?
Laminitis is often caused by problems with the metabolism, usually in combination with an excess of sugars in the food. Especially horses that are insulin resistant (IR), have PPID (Cushing) or suffer from the Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) are sensitive to sugary grass or too much sugar in concentrates. With these horses, be careful with grazing when it is very cold. The fructan content of grass can also become very high in winter. This especially happens when it has frozen at night. It is therefore wise not to put your horse out in the pasture early in the morning when it has frozen hard, certainly not on a sunny morning.
Certain medications can also cause laminitis, as well as blood poisoning and even overuse. The latter can be caused by a lot of training on hard surfaces, or when a horse puts more stress on one foot than the other, for example because it compensates for discomfort or lameness.
Laminitis can be recognized by:
- Move stiff and rigid
- Stand with the legs extended forward to relieve the hooves
- Warm hooves
- You can often feel the blood vessels beating in the lower foot (pastern cavity)
- Sensitive beam
- Lameness, alternating strain on the legs
- Sometimes fever and / or sweating
What to do with laminitis?
If you suspect that your horse has laminitis, call the vet immediately. He or she can help you with the diagnosis – often with the help of a blood test. The vet can also give the correct medication. Don’t go out with your horse! Provide poor hay and water, but do not feed concentrates or carrots.
If your horse walks a bit with difficulty in winter, makes short steps and looks stiff or just wants to walk on the soft shoulder instead of the hard path, there is also another option. That is winter hoof pain, also called winter laminitis. This condition is not directly related to sugars, although horses with metabolic problems are in the risk category. With winter hoof pain, there is a reduced blood flow to the legs and feet of the horse. When it is cold, your horse will produce more of the hormone cortisol. More thyroid hormones are also released. These hormones cause the blood vessels in the hooves and lower legs to narrow. Winter hoof pain or winter laminitis is most common in horses that have PPID, are insulin resistant, or have had damage to their hooves from past laminitis.
Stress with winter hoofpain
The production of cortisol therefore causes a narrowing of the blood vessels in the hoof. The reduced blood supply causes pain in the hooves, especially if the surface is hard or bumpy. That pain creates stress and that stress causes the production of even more cortisol. It goes from bad to worse.
Recognize and treat winter hoof pain
You can recognize winter hoof pain by:
- Lameness or short, stiff strides
- No fever
- No warm hooves
- No pulsation in the lower foot
The solution is partly in keeping your horse warm. Put a blanket on him and even use soft leg protectors if it freezes really hard. Hoof boots can also help your horse to keep circulation going and reduce pain when walking. A horse with winter laminitis may – if that is possible – move (gently), on a soft surface, to support the circulation.
Conclusion: hoof pain in winter
Your horse can also become laminitis in the winter, due to fructan in the grass or too many sugars in the ration. But winter foot pain, or winter laminitis, can also cause your horse to take short steps or even walk lame. It’s important to find out what’s going on, because the treatment of these two conditions is very different! Are you stuck? Then consult your vet.