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Spring Cautions
Spring Cautions

SPRING WOES FOR THE HEAVY HORSE

The horses at risk of “grass foundering” have several characteristics in common.  Grass founder is a form of laminitis, which is inflammation of the feet.  The horse’s feet become very sore.  The discomfort they experience is similar to very slowly pulling off our fingernails. That description helps us realize the pain and discomfort Dobbin feels.

The signs we see when the horse founders may be familiar to many of you.  All the signs are due to reluctance of the horse to use its front feet.  They experience intense pain when they place the feet on the ground.  The back feet are usually involved, but with the front feet supporting sixty percent of the body’s weight, the discomfort in them exceeds that of the back.  It is a situation of placing the weight where it hurts the least.

So the foundered horse extends it’s front feet out in front.  It will act like it is trying to sit down as it shifts its weight to the back end.  Early in the disease Dobbin will be running a fever, breathing fast, and his nostrils may even be flaring due to the combination of fever and pain.  He will be constantly shifting his weight from one foot to the other.  He may choose to lay down and will stretch out for long periods of time.

The first case of grass founder is usually followed by several days to months of treatment, depending on the severity.  Usually, by working closely with the farrier, the severe cases will be walking nearly normally after a year of treatment. After the horse founders the first time, relapses are common in the spring and fall; or anytime there is a spurt of grass growth.  After the initial case of founder, its owners can often detect the horse in the early stages of a relapse.  If the horse is removed from grass immediately it may recover quickly with little discomfort.

By now you are probably saying to yourself, “Why don’t I just try to prevent this condition from happening?”  You are so smart! So which horses are most likely to have the problem?  Of course, the overweight horse is, and it will usually be over eight years of age and lead a very sedentary life style.  Usually these are geldings by two to one over mares, because the mares are still hormonally driven (and we know what that means!).  It means the mare is stimulated for a few days every three weeks, and this stimulation can lead to “increased physical activity.”

With age comes the accumulation of fat, much of which is deposited along the crest or top of the neck (where the mane is attached).  Normally the top of the neck will fit easily within our hand.  The horse that has accumulated fat will.develop what we call a “crested neck,” which you can move back and forth like a heavy sausage.  This is accompanied by thick fat deposits along the ribs resembling saddle bags.  Through these you will be unable to feel the ribs with the flat hand.  There are often fat deposits along each side of the tail as well.  With a sedentary lifestyle the horse has less reason to move about or exert itself.  As a result Dobbin gains weight, and it becomes more difficult to move around.  Since he is moving around less he is able to save calories which are stored away as fat for future use, but which he will never need.  You can see where this cycle is going. His trip to the feed bucket will burn less than half the calories the two year old brat uses as it bucks and kicks and runs circles around Dobbin.

Also associated with age but also with the accumulation of weight is the slowing down of the thyroid gland. This gland is responsible for the how fast the body’s engine runs.  With reduced output, the engine runs slower and burns fewer calories.  If Dobbin is still eating the grain we are feeding him, he will have plenty of extra fat to store away--“for future use"--but which he will never need!

If your horse fits the above criteria,
do not feed it grain between now and next week,
and limit its grass comsumption!

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