Laminitis studies shed light on equine management


laminitisResults of four recent laminitis research projects have shed new light on equine management practices for owners trying to cope with the disease in their horses.

The new work  published by the Laminitis Consortium, the research body initiated by the Waltham Equine Studies Group, represents important progress in the Consortium’s mission to advance the understanding, prevention and management of laminitis.

The four separate studies, two of which were funded by The Laminitis Trust, have shed new light on:

  • The role that grass fructan may have in the development of laminitis.
  • The important influence of water temperature when soaking hay to reduce the water-soluble carbohydrate  (WSC) content.
  • A possible link between recurrent laminitis and reduced anti-inflammatory capacity.
  • The potential anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise.

Spillers Research and Development manager Clare Barfoot said the studies give further evidence to support some of the established management practices that is advised for horses and ponies prone to laminitis.

“These include the importance of feeding a balanced diet alongside appropriate forage, grazing restriction and regular low intensity exercise whenever clinically possible. We are very grateful to The Laminitis Trust for their generous funding of two of the projects, helping us to learn more about this critical condition,” she said.

Laminitis is a debilitating condition that may be associated with altered insulin dynamics and/or  disrupted hindgut function, which may be contributed to by high intakes of simple sugars or fructans found in pasture.

The studies are:

In Vitro degradation of grass fructan by equid gastrointestinal digesta, conducted by Jenny Ince, Annette Longland, Meriel Moore-Colyer and Pat Harris, was published earlier this year in Grass and Forage Science.

The study confirmed that grass fructan eaten by grazing horses may be incompletely digested in the foregut and subsequently pass into the hindgut. This may then be rapidly fermented  and indirectly lead to metabolic disorders such as laminitis. This supports the advice that restricting pasture intake can be a vital aspect in reducing the risk of laminitis.


How soaking affects the water-soluble carbohydrate and protein content of hay: effect of water temperature and agitation was conducted by Annette Longland, Pat Harris and Clare Barfoot, building on previous hay soaking research carried out in 2010.

The study compared the effects of soaking hay for up to 16 hours in winter and in summer water temperatures and in hot water, with and without vigorous agitation followed by rinsing. The conclusion was that, soaking hay at cold temperatures of 8oC or less may be less effective in reducing WSC than when the same hays are soaked under warmer conditions. This suggests it may be beneficial to use warmer water, at a temperature of 16oC or more, especially during the winter, to maximise the loss of WSC for laminitis prone animals. This paper is in preparation for publication in the Veterinary Record.


Plasma concentrations of inflammatory markers in previously laminitic ponies conducted by Helen Wray and funded by The Laminitis Trust has been published in the September issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal.

It compared the inflammatory profile of previously laminitic ponies with ponies with no history of laminitis kept at pasture in the late spring and during the winter months. Concentrations of the inflammatory marker adiponectin were seen to be lower in previously laminitic ponies, which suggests that recurrent laminitis may be associated with reduced anti-inflammatory capacity rather than a pro-inflammatory state.


The effect of exercise on plasma concentrations of inflammatory markers in normal and previously laminitic ponies was led by Nicola Menzies-Gow at the Royal Veterinary College and published recently on line in the Equine Veterinary Journal.

The study, which was also funded by The Laminitis Trust, identified that regular, low intensity exercise appears to have a greater anti-inflammatory effect in previously laminitic ponies compared to non-laminitic ponies, supporting the importance of regular exercise in managing those prone to laminitis. (NB: veterinary advice may be required prior to initiating an exercise programme especially in those animals that have recently suffered an episode of laminitis).


The Waltham-initiated International Laminitis Research Consortium is the UK’s leading laminitis research body. It comprises world-leading equine veterinary, nutrition and research experts interested in collaborating on the important topic of laminitis. It includes Dr Nicola Menzies-Gow and Professor Jonathan Elliott of the RVC, Annette Longland of Equine Livestock and Nutrition Services, Dr Pat Harris of the Waltham Equine Studies Group, and Clare Barfoot of Mars Horsecare UK Ltd.

The Laminitis Trust is the only registered Charity dedicated to supporting research into equine laminitis. It was founded in 1998 and regularly awards grants to further scientific research on this important disease. The Trustees of the Laminitis Trust are Professor Ian A Silver, Robert A Eustace, Simon A. Thomas and William Bougourd.

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