Feed me! Helping your insulin resistant horse back to health is no easy path


You’re worried. You have reason to be. Your horse is exhibiting signs of insulin resistance (regional fat deposits along the neck, down the spine, tailhead, shoulders, chest, or even above the eyes).

He is likely overweight (though not always). You know that your horse is at a high risk of developing laminitis, and you want to avoid that at all costs. You’ve taken away the sweet feed, removed all cereal grains, stopped giving your horse carrots, searched on line for the latest supplement for treating insulin resistance, and put your horse in a dry lot. You’ve even found that perfect low NSC (non-structural carbohydrate) hay, carefully weighing it out each day to provide exactly 1.5% of your horse’s ideal weight. Doing this is difficult – you can’t bear seeing your horse so unhappy.

Your goal is to help your horse, not make him worse. A poor quality of life is not what you want for him. Feeding him in a manner that is contrary to his natural physiological needs is making his body scream for help. His hormones are raging. He doesn’t feel safe. To overcome this, he holds on to body fat, trying to protect himself from the perceived threats to his survival. You can see your efforts are not working.

Then you read my work about how important it is to calm down the hormonal stress response by feeding a low NSC hay, free choice. You decide to give it a try. Will it work for your horse? Very likely, yes.

The only way to fix your horse is to help him return to his natural state. However, the longer a horse lives as an overweight, stressed animal, the more difficult it is to bring that horse back to a normal weight, free of hypothalamic inflammation, with no more leptin or insulin resistance. In some cases the horse may have  endured too many years of forage restriction, creating so much inflammatory damage, that time may have taken its toll; he may be too far gone. But the solution is not continuing down this destructive path; the solution is to try to make things better.

The current mode of thinking is to limit the horse’s hay intake and provide various forms of supplementation. But none of these supplements will make a significant difference if the horse is not fed in sync with the way he was meant to live. There are many research-supported reasons for this.

Deprivation actually increases insulin resistance. It is critically important that the horse have a steady supply of forage all day and all night. This is what is meant by “free-choice” – the hay never runs out, not even for 10 minutes. If it does, you put your horse in a state of fear. He fears an impending famine and his hormones will respond by keeping him overweight. Researchers at Louisiana State University found that mares having enough hay during the day but deprived of hay overnight showed the greatest degree of insulin resistance.

Here’s something else that may surprise you. Your effort to control insulin by depriving your horse of forage actually works against you because glucose will eventually rise through the horse’s natural hormonal response. When a horse has nothing to eat, his blood glucose level starts to drop. He needs glucose to survive – it fuels his nervous system. In an effort to remedy the situation, the hormone, glucagon, is secreted to release glucose from glycogen stores in the liver. Glucose is also restored to normal levels by breaking down muscle. This lost muscle mass brings down the metabolic rate, and ruins his body condition.

Regional fat deposits develop. Fat deposits throughout key areas of the body (most typically along neck and shoulders) promote the formation of an enzyme known as HSD, which tells the body’s tissues to ignore insulin. More specifically, HSD leads to cortisol production, and cortisol, when elevated either due to body fat or by Cushing’s disease, leads to elevated insulin in the blood and ultimately, laminitis.

Body fat increases inflammation, leading to more body fat. Excess body fat secretes inflammatory substances known as cytokines. Cytokines can damage the hypothalamus, the portion of the brain that recognizes leptin. Consequently, leptin becomes elevated, but the horse does not respond normally be being satisfied. Instead, the horse keeps on eating, getting more obese, producing more cytokines, increasing inflammatory damage to the hypothalamus, resulting in greater leptin resistance, and more body fat.

Stress elevates cortisol. A prominent study at Ohio State University revealed that cortisol rises when horses experience an empty stomach for hours as they anticipate their next meal, or when they are bored or stressed in any way. This study emphasizes the exact reason that stress creates a cascade of events that damages the horse.

Stress affects behavior. Some horses appear calm and stoic about their discomfort. That’s a survival mechanism since the sick horse will be left behind in a wild setting. Some horses suffer openly and will behave erratically, have a poor attention span, and will act ornery. The suffering is both physical and mental.

All that stress is totally unnecessary!

Here is a fascinating study. Fourteen obese, laminitic horses (of various breeds) were subjected to a specific management program that emphasized a mineral-balanced, low non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) diet,  along with daily exercise, specialized hoof trimming and sole protection. While hoof mechanics is not the scope of this article, diet certainly is. All of these horses were fed a low NSC hay, ad libitum (that means, free-choice!) and hand-walked (as long as they were able to walk with the hoof landing heel-first). The result – the horses went from a Henneke body condition score of 8.5 down to a score of 5.0 — in other words, from obese to a normal weight!  And, after two years of grazing on pasture, all but one of them were able to continue on pasture while remaining sound!

I’m here to offer you what the ideal situation looks like. I ask you to do your very best to get as close to it as possible. Take a look at the details and see what you may have been missing.

Forget about the drylot without a steady supply of forage. Unfortunately, putting your horse in a dry lot with restricted hay will likely bring about another laminitis episode. Your horse may lose weight, but his body will be more inflamed than before. His metabolic rate will become exceedingly sluggish. Furthermore, leptin resistance will not been solved, telling the horse to eat more. Not being able to eat creates a cortisol surge, leading to an insulin surge and bingo! You have another case of laminitis.

Get aggressive in reducing inflammation. Removing stress is the first step, but the horse will still be leptin resistant because of the residual hypothalamic inflammation. Prepare to boost the diet with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory herbs, key minerals, and the right balance of omega 3s to 6s, preferably from supplements that provide wholesome ingredients, without the use of added preservatives. Removing sugar and starch from the diet, as well as chemicals that are often added to feeds, will reduce inflammation and the oxidative stress it creates. Please review articles in my website’s library for specific ways to accomplish this.

Balance minerals. Magnesium, copper, zinc, chromium, iodine, and selenium can impact insulin resistance. Magnesium is well known in its ability to impact glucose homeostasis, but many horses do not receive enough, either through inadequate dietary intake or from competition from calcium. Many forages, especially alfalfa, are high in calcium relative to magnesium; therefore, magnesium should be supplemented to bring the calcium to magnesium ratio down to 1.5 to 2 times more calcium than magnesium. Determine the level of calcium in your supplements – they could be making the ratio worse.

Watch out for excess iron. It has long been known that iron exacerbates insulin resistance in humans and laboratory animals, and it has been recently revealed to do the same in horses. Since forages (pasture and/or hay) generally contain a substantial amount of iron, it is critical that it be balanced with other copper and zinc. Choose a vitamin/mineral supplements that does not contain iron. And avoid commercially fortified feeds that contain added iron. If you grow your own hay, or have a good relationship with your hay producer, check the soil’s pH. Grasses grown in acidic soils tend to accumulate more iron than those grown from alkali soils.

Offer a variety of protein sources. When only one source of protein is fed (such as one type of grass hay), there will not be enough variety of amino acids to provide good quality protein and many amino acids will go unused. Excess amino acids cannot be stored for later; they get destroyed in the liver and may be converted to glucose, potentially increasing insulin in the same way that sugar does.

Limit or eliminate stalling. Horses need to move. Ever tried staying in a small room for most of the day? And we like cozy places! Horses do not! Their very survival depends on their ability to flee at a moment’s notice from dangers, real or perceived. Trapped, most eventually yield to their fate, appearing as though they are accepting and perhaps even appreciating their solitude. But the stress eventually leads to a vast variety of health issues, including laminitis.

Exercise and just plain movement are critical to your horse’s well-being. Researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia demonstrated that exercise improves insulin sensitivity and reduces cytokine production. Leptin resistance has also been shown to improve through physical activity. And from this we know that the insulin receptors on the surface of the cells are increased by exercise and that allows insulin to return to normal. And exercise doesn’t have to be formal. Researchers at Virginia Intermont College found that pastured horses were just as fit as horses who were kept in stalls and exercised five days per week.

Don’t neglect the hindgut (cecum and large colon). Its microbial population is responsible for digesting the fiber in your hay and pasture, producing volatile fatty acids which are a significant energy source. These microbes also produce B vitamins and other nutrients. In addition, the majority of your horse’s immune function is in the hindgut, preventing the overpopulation of detrimental organisms. Many horses benefit from prebiotics (fermentation products and other “food” for existing microbes) when shifting from one feed source to another, or during short periods of stress, such as travel or performing.

Probiotics contain live organisms. To be effective, your supplement must contain billions (not millions) of colony forming units (CFUs). However, use probiotics judiciously. Horses who are pasture grazing may not require them because they obtain microbes from the ground. But according to Tom Schell, DVM, the overuse of  Lactobacillus strains, which are often found in commercial feeds and supplements, may lead to an overgrowth of lactic acid producing bacteria, resulting in cecal acidosis and endotoxin-related (not endocrine-related) laminitis.

Free choice is less expensive. Feeding your horse all the hay he wants may appear to be costly. But in actuality, it is less expensive to allow your horse to tell you how much he wants because a horse who is permitted to self-regulate his intake will eat only what his body needs. Yes, he will overeat at first, but soon thereafter he will get the message that the hay is always there and he will start to walk away from it to take a nap or visit with his companions. His eating will slow down and he will eat less, perhaps even less than he did before.

To ease the horse through the process, slow down his intake. Horses in a natural setting do not eat large amounts at one time; instead, they graze on small amounts of forages, walking great distances to find that next tasty morsel. Domesticated horses don’t always have large expanses of land to explore; therefore, it is up to their owners to make an effort to simulate the slow pace of natural grazing. Hay should be offered in small piles or in slow feeders in many locations to encourage movement and natural seeking behavior. If your horse is stalled, you can place a slow feeder net or container (choose one that does not damage the teeth or soft tissues) inside the stall in two locations. And always keep them full! These are designed to stimulate saliva flow and satisfy the horse’s need to search and pull hay from the openings.

Medium and long swards of grass proved more difficult for ponies wearing grazing muzzles, a recent study found.
Medium and long swards of grass proved more difficult for ponies wearing grazing muzzles, a recent study found. © Spillers

A grazing muzzle offers a means of allowing the horse to enjoy some pasture time with his buddies. I am not in favor of using them for any length of time (no more than 3 hours) simply because the horse’s digestive system relies on forage flowing through it at all times. Furthermore, grazing muzzles can be very frustrating for some horses, leading to a hormonal stress response, and hence, defeating your purpose. But, if your horse is calm about having it on, it can be a temporary solution as you work toward improving your horse’s metabolic health. Keep in mind that the muzzle must allow for water drinking and drain properly. And never cover the openings with duct tape, as I have seen suggested; it is not only cruel, but dangerous.

Can your horse return to pasture grazing?

Yes, preferably if you test your pasture. Researchers at Louisiana State looked at horses who were fed hay in a dry lot versus those that were able to graze on pasture. Even though the NSC level in the forage was the same and the amount consumed was the same, the horses on the dry lot were more insulin resistant than the horses on the pasture. This had to do with the fact that the pastured horses were able to move around more and were less stressed than those on a dry lot.

What’s more, many horses who are confined to a dry lot with free-choice, appropriate hay, still have problems with insulin resistance, as well as overall health and condition. Deprived of fresh grasses can result in trace nutrient imbalances that cannot be easily corrected through supplementation. Moreover, horses who are accustomed to grazing effortlessly, interacting with other horses, and moving about, will exhibit stress-related responses when suddenly confined to a space that doesn’t allow them to enjoy behaving naturally.

Interestingly, horses who graze on pasture 24/7 will eat far less grass than those who are allowed to graze on pasture for only a few hours each day, with hay provided the rest of the time. Researchers at North Carolina State University found that horses will typically consume 0.75 pounds of hay (dry matter) per hour when permitted access to pasture all the time. However, horses who only have 3 hours of pasture grazing time, will eat nearly three times more grass per hour.

If your horse is currently in a dry lot with hay and not doing well, and you have access to pasture (especially one which has a variety of plants, is not over-grazed, heat or drought stressed), you may want to consider gradually switching him from a dry lot to pasture, over a three-week period. Start in the early morning hours when the sugar/starch level is at its lowest.

Bottom line

We are harming our horses by not letting them be horses. If your insulin resistant horse has endured years of being fed forage intermittently throughout the day, while waiting for hours for more hay, he is damaged. The good news is that there is every reason to feel confident that he will return to a healthy state. There are some horses, however, who have so much damage that they cannot recover. But you have no way of knowing that. The goal is to try to make things better. When you keep moving in the right direction, you will allow your horse to enjoy his life and strive toward regaining his health.


[i] Lestelle, J.D., Earl, L.R., Thompson, Jr., D.L., Hebert, R.C., and Mitcham, P.B. 2011. Abstract: Insulin-glucose dose response curves in insulin sensitive and insensitive mares and effect of overnight and long-term feeding regimen. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 31, 285-286. Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. 

[ii] Johnson, P.J., Ganjam, V.K., Slight, S.H., Kreeger, J.M., and Messer, N.T. 2010. Tissue-specific dysregulation of cortisol metabolism in equine laminitis. Equine Veterinary Journal, 36(1), 41-45. College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri at Columbus, Missouri.

[iii] Getty, J.M., 2013. Laminitis. A Scientific and Realistic Approach. ISBN: 978-1483956169.

[iv] Wisse, B., 2004. The inflammatory syndrome: The roles of adipose tissue cytokines in metabolic disorders linked to obesity. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 15(11), 2792-2800.

[v] De Git, K.C., and Adan, R.A., 2015. Leptin resistance in diet-induced obesity: The role of hypothalamic inflammation. World Obesity, (16(3), 207-224.

[vi] Saul, J.L., Nyhart, A.B., Reddish, J.M., Alman, M., and Cole, K. Effect of feeding practice on glucose, insulin, and cortisol responses in Quarter Horse mares. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 31(5), 299-300. The Ohio State University. 

[vii] Taylor, D., Sperandeo, A., Schumacher, J., et.al. 2014. Clinical outcome of 14 obese, laminitis horses managed with the same rehabilitation protocol. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 34(4), 556-564.

[viii] The Henneke System was developed by Don R. Henneke, Ph.D. of Tarleton State University in Texas in 1983.  The Henneke System is a consistent method of objective evaluation of a horse‘s body condition based on visual and palpable fat cover over set points on a horse.

[ix] Getty, J.M. Obesity. The Real Cause. The Real Fix., as well as, PPID progression can be slowed down, The overweight horse who won’t stop eating. Leptin resistance is the key!  www.gettyequinenutrition.com

[x] Nielsen, B.D., Vick, M.M, & Dennis, P.M. 2012. A potential link between insulin resistance and iron overload disorder in browsing rhinoceroses investigated through the use of an equine model. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 43(3), S61-S65.

[xi] Getty, J.M.  Too much iron can be detrimental to the insulin resistant horse.  Studies have shown a direct correlation between iron intake and insulin levels in the blood, making it an important factor in managing the diet for these horses. Forages (pasture, hay, hay pellets or cubes) are already high in this mineral; therefore, supplementation is not necessary. Iron deficiency anemia is rare and too much iron can potentially lead to laminitis, as well as create an imbalance with other minerals.  Forages grown from acidic soils will be higher in iron. If you grow your own hay, or can discuss this issue with your hay provider, consider increasing the pH of the soil through lime application.  To protect your horse, have your hay analyzed and choose a vitamin/mineral supplement that does not include iron. Calculate the total iron intake in the diet; though an upper tolerable limit for all horses is 500 ppm, it should be far less for sensitive horses.  Soaking hay can remove much of the iron, but will also remove other minerals. Balance iron with zinc and copper:  iron should not be more than 5 times the level of zinc, and the zinc to copper ratio should range from 3:1 to 5:1. 

[xii] Pollit, C., de Laat, M., van Eps, A, Baldwin, G., Underwood, C, Medina-Torres, C., and Collins, S. 2011. Advances in Laminitis Research at the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 31, 569-571. University of Queensland, Australia.

[xiii] Flores, M.B.S, Fernandes, M.F.A, Ropelle, E.R., et. al. 2006. Exercise improves insulin and leptin sensitivity in hypothalamus of Wistar rats.  Diabetes, 55(9), 2554-2561.

[xiv] Graham-Thiers, Patricia M, Bowen, L. Kristen. 2012. Improved ability to maintain fitness in horses during large pasture turnout. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 33, 8, 581-585.

[xv] Schell, Tom DVM, 2015. Fecal microflora and dysbosis; Contribution to metabolic syndrome, inflammation and leaky gut syndrome

[xvi] Getty, J.M. 2013. The Easy Keeper. Making it Easy for Him to be Healthy. Spotlight on Equine Nutrition Books Series, found at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com 

[xvii] Lestelle, J.D., Earl, L.R., Thompson, Jr., D.L., Hebert, R.C., and Mitcham, P.B. 2011. Abstract: Insulin-glucose dose response curves in insulin sensitive and insensitive mares and effect of overnight and long-term feeding regimen. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 31, 285-286. Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. 

[xviii] Glunk, E.C., Pratt-Phillips, S.E., and Siciliano, P.D., 2013. Effect of restricted pasture access on pasture dry matter intake rate, dietary energy intake, and fecal pH in horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 33(6), 421-426.

Juliet M Getty

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. has been called a "pioneer in free choice forage feeding," and her articles and interviews often appear in national and international publications. » Read Juliet's profile

16 thoughts on “Feed me! Helping your insulin resistant horse back to health is no easy path

  • July 12, 2017 at 4:18 am

    This is so good, and such a relief! I do have one question, and hope someone can offer a solution:

    I’m moving. My three horses (one is IR) are currently on a dry lot with slow-feed hay nets 24/7. But my new place has a grass pasture. I plan to keep it mowed, but how do I transition my horses from their current dry lot to their new pasture when the two houses are 90 minutes apart?

    Can you please help?

    • August 8, 2019 at 2:22 am

      Greetings Robynne,

      I see that you posted this question more than two years ago — this is the first time I’ve seen it. My apologies!

      How are things going with your three horses in your current location? Are they all on pasture?

      Very best to you,

      Dr. Juliet Getty 🙂

  • July 16, 2019 at 6:55 am

    Hello. I have an IR pony. He is a native Dartmoor x shetland 11-2 hh and has suffered lami episodes 3 times in 2 years. He had bone rotation of 5 percent , but this has been corrected. Everyday he is on a dry lot and stabled at night. His i take is 5kg daily, so he has a high fibre diet consisting of 4.5 kg of Hi fibre horsehage , and the rest is balancer Bailys lo cal and top spec top chop zero. So his hay i put
    Within three haynets, to slow his intake, then i give him 1/2 bucket of chop to munch on. And a treat ball with a handful of fibre nuggets. The supplements he has are turmeric plus, cinnemon,
    Brewers yeast, lamifree which contains, rosehip, seaweed, nettle, he has garlic and magnesium oxide. I wanted to tell you about bertie. He inhales his hay, .. starts at 5 pm, its gone by 8 pm.. he may then start on the chop. So basically im guessing he has long periods of time without food until i get there at 7 am. Twice now i have gone , if a chilly evening and he hasnt been warm enough, ive found him with tight gut muscle, tucked up and shivering… i quickly throw on a rug, and give him half a banana or a diabetic glucose tab for humans to bring his levels back up. So reading this artlicle has made my brain reel.!!!! You are so right…. ive tried him in timothy hay, he spiked, the only thing he can tolerate is the horsehage which of course is haylage but for laminitics hi fibre. Im confused now what to do. Somtimes i see his thyroid gland is up some days and other days gone down… he used to have Levothyroxine, but the vet told me to have him on this diet, and eventually he lost weight and was seemingly good, but now even on the same amount of food, hes putting on weight and he is footy. Its a minefield, im not intelligent enough to work it out… please help

    • August 8, 2019 at 4:18 am

      Greetings Hayley,

      Thank you so much for writing. I’m sorry your precious fellow has been suffering. It is apparent that Bertie is experiencing leptin resistance. Please take a look at another article on this subject: “The Overweight Horse Who Won’t Stop Eating – Leptin Resistance is the Key” http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/Library/Theoverweighthorsewhowontstopeating.htm

      The best thing you can do is to analyze his hay and other fibrous feeds to make absolutely certain that the simple sugars (ESC) plus starch are less than 10% on a dry matter basis. Also, the digestible energy (calories) need to be no more than 0.94 Mcals/lb or 2.06 Mcals/kg. Once you have confidence that your feed is appropriate, you can offer it free choice. But, in addition to that, the diet has to be high in antioxidants as well as magnesium, and other supporting anti-inflammatory nutrients that I’ve mentioned in my articles.

      It is very important that he not go for more than 2 hours without anything to chew, lest he develop ulcers. So, this may also be an issue for him.

      CBD offers promise when it comes to lowering insulin levels in humans with type 2 diabetes. Though there are no studies with horses as yet, it may be worth trying. I recommend starting with 50 mg of CBD twice daily. I’m not sure where you are located — the UK? If yes, CBD is legal and easy to obtain. Make sure it has less than 0.3% THC content.

      I know how much he means to you. Perhaps you would find a consultation helpful. I would be delighted to work with you. If you’d like to set up a consultation appointment, visit this site for more information: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/talktodrgetty.htm We could arrange for a Skype visit.

      I hope these articles will get you started. You may also wish to get a copy of my booklet: “Easy Keeper – Making it Easy to Keep Him Healthy.” It is available on my website http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/TeleSeminars/TeleseminarBooks/SpotlightonEquineNutritionTeleseminarSeries.htm, though it would likely be less expensive from amazon.

      If you’d like to contact me further, email is best: gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com

      Best wishes,

      Dr. Juliet Getty 🙂

  • December 17, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    Can you recomend a supplement that has all the minerals and herbs that you menchaned for a insulan resistant pony? I have had my sweet girl on metforman for the last 5 months trying to get her insukin level down, The vet just put her on thyrol l and presend after doing more blood work. It is all getting very old for her and me. any sugestions would be great!Norrine Miller

  • December 18, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Greetings Norrine,
    I’m sorry to hear about your pony and I thank you for writing. There are a few supplements that are very helpful that I will recommend here, but you may wish to schedule a consultation appointment at some point so we can go over the big picture. Here is the link for consultation info: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/talktodrgetty.htm

    I assume you are in the US? I cannot ship these internationally.
    First is a good vitamin/mineral supplement that contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and pre/prebiotics, and does not contain sugar or iron: High Point for Grass based diets: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/products/highpointgrass.htm

    Next, there are two supplements that will reduce inflammation, and lower insulin levels:
    ** Meta Librium: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/products/metalibrium.htm
    ** Microbiome Support: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/products/microbiome.htm

    A source of omega 3s is very important, and I have found that a product made from flax, chia, and algae provides a good balance of ALA and DHA, in a product called Profile: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/products/profile.htm

    One other thing to consider is CBD. CBD has much research surrounding it in humans who have metabolic conditions and so far, it has been very helpful in reducing insulin levels in my clients’ horses. Here is the link for CBD that I recommend: http://www.gettycdbhealth.com

    I hope this is helpful.

    Best wishes,
    Dr. Juliet Getty 🙂

  • May 10, 2020 at 4:22 am

    This is interesting, my Welsh mare, 15 years, has had 2 bouts of laminitis with a lot of gradual rotation and some sinking in her near fore – basically she’s run out of credit, her pedal bone perilously close to the sole – recently been prescribed pergolide and Metformin.
    The Metformin proving nigh impossible to get into her.
    She’ a substantial mare, c.9.5” flat bone, but not gross, been regularly ridden for between 1 – 3 hours most days.
    April 2020, Heart bars removed because nailing on became excruciating, she is now wearing padded hoof boots over a Frog support bound in the left fore.
    Currently not ‘lame’, as in not hopping, but one wouldn’t buy her (!), strides out in boots, but is definitely sensitive.
    she has steamed hay as she wishes in a bare paddock by day, and stabled while overnight, damped bran with Formula 4Feet balancer, and recently any number of treat-foods to try and get the Metformin eaten. Simply counterproductive, and we’ll abandon Metformin.
    She will wear a muzzle, we have plenty of pasture, but any field with 5” of grass will result in her very dramatic intake of grass, albeit longer stems.
    At present I allow her about one hour with the muzzle on a mown lawn, best we can do to permit some natural grazing behaviour – a limited quantity of rocket fuel. We would love her to go back to living in the fields!
    Please advise on how this Cob might transit into something more normal. I have tried riding her several times (with the padded boots), walking, and she was nothing loath, but later exhibited raised pulse in her near fore, resulting in 24 – 36 hours box rest with one dose of Bute and ACP to return her to ‘normal’. These incidents have calmed back down – thus far.
    I have no personal experience with CBD and gather quality control of the product is variable, but know it’s really helpful with some human and canine conditions.
    Our vets favour medication, and screwing clogs to her feet to retard wall growth while promoting sole depth, which I won’t do.
    My farrier will try to trim and re align her, but obviously can’t push her pedal bone back up, she needs to get moving, to try and grow some more toughened sole, but I’m fearful of triggering full blown laminitis – which will definitely mean euthanasia – we are NOT putting her or ourselves through all that pain and stress again.
    Any advice would be appreciated, thank you.

  • May 28, 2020 at 1:26 am

    Greetings Rhiannon,

    I totally agree with your desire to get her back to living like a horse and being able to graze on pasture. And that can be the goal, but for now, it is best to be cautious and allow her to have a suitable hay 24/7, as you are doing. You didn’t mention if you’ve tested your hay, so that would be important to do to make sure that the sugar and starch levels are less than 10% on a dry matter basis.

    You can also test your pasture — if your night time temperatures are consistently above 40 degree F (4 degrees C). Choose a day when it will be sunny (and preferably was sunny the day before) and test early in the morning. This is the best case scenario since grasses are lowest in sugars early in the morning as long as it isn’t too cold at night. Take a second test in the late afternoon, say about 5 to 6 pm — this is your worst case scenario since the grasses build up sugars as they are exposed to sunlight all day. Granted, this is just a “snapshot” but it will give you an idea of how your grasses are behaving and you can restest every few weeks.

    The diet needs to be supportive and I gather that you are not in the US, so I am not able to make recommendations. But please visit my website, https://gettyequinenutrition.com and search for information on insulin resistance. I have a wealth of information that I believe you’ll find helpful, and perhaps you can find supplements in your area that are similar to what I have on my site.

    I have found CBD to be very help in lowering insulin and leptin levels. But it may not be available in your area.

    Very best wishes,
    Dr. Juliet Getty 🙂

  • July 1, 2020 at 1:36 am

    Hello, I just finished reading your article. I have a horse that is 14 year old Arabian, I thought he had foundered almost four years ago on pasture because we’ve put them out too early in April. They were on pasture for 3 weeks before I found that he was too heavy and wasn’t walking proper. So we brought them home and he has been in a dry lot ever since. I recently had him trimmed in April after a long winter of no shoes, and he went lame. I had the vet come out in x-ray his feet and found out that he has rotation he also has a clubbed foot where the rotation is. I also found out that he has metabolic issues, I took him to get his teeth floated and the vet would not do it because he was in such pain with his foot. Which I agree would have been more painful, so we brought him home she took blood tests they found out he was IR, he was also borderline Cushing’s. She wanted me ( the vet )
    To put him on thyroid medicine and metabolize powder, and find some grass hay that was 10% sugar content NSC. I live in Idaho, hardly anybody around here tests their hay. I talked to a broker about getting some low content sugar k but I am not having much luck financially to afford it. I have had this horse for many years I have ridden him all over the mountains I need to know what else to do for him. I want to put him back on pasture, but the vets say that I will basically be killing him if I did that because of the sugar content. I know the sugar levels are the lowest between 3 and 10 a.m. I have another horse on pasture he is older 20 year old but he has never been lame. My building who is 14 is losing weight he is very poor looking he’s on metabolize thyroid pain pills( previscot). What would you recommend ,I’m tired of watching my horse slowly die. Leterrier put clogs on his feet with frog wedges protect his soul his soul is very very thin and I know he is in a lot of pain I just want to do the best I can for him I have been soaking his hay 2 hours a day everyday twice a day. Can you help me?

  • July 9, 2020 at 2:26 am

    Hello Christine,

    I am so sorry to hear about what you and your precious horse are going through. Yes, I can help you. It would be best to schedule an appointment for a consultation. Please go to my website and click on the Consultations tab at the top of the page for information about how consultations work: https://gettyequinenutrition.com

    While you’re on my homepage, browse the Resource Library on articles pertaining to insulin resistance and also Cushing’s disease. I believe you’ll get some good ideas there. But when we visit, I’ll be able to go over the “big picture” for your horse and customize a plan for you.

    Hope to be working with you soon.

    Best wishes,

    Dr. Juliet Getty

  • June 16, 2021 at 12:11 am

    Hi I have a 14 year old quarter horse that has been diagnosed with high sugar and high insulin. She has been lame for going on 2 weeks. We put heart bar shoes one to take the pressure off. She is on stall rest with wet hay, bute 3 times a day, I ice her feet 3 times a day and been giving her a metabolic supplement may be 4 days now. Hard part is getting it into her. How can you do it. If you mix with water it goes into a hard lump. I feed it with a little carrots and a mineral pellet but don’t want to feed something that will make her levels worse. She has a 13 degree rotation on her right and 4 degrees on her left. I have never dealt with this type of thing before so any help would be great? She is not over weight by a lot but she is heavy. Thanks I am beond lost here

  • June 24, 2021 at 2:53 am

    Greetings Cindy,

    Thank you for reaching out to me. I am so sorry to hear about your mare’s suffering with laminitis. The best way I can help you would be to schedule a phone consultation. That way I can go over everything about her and examine the “big picture” in order to customize a plan for her. You can read more about consultations on my website https://gettyequinenutrition.com

    In the meantime, I am very concerned about her likelihood of developing an ulcer while on so much bute. Please consider giving her Starting Gate to protect her against ulcers. Here is the link to this product on my website: https://gettyequinenutrition.com/products/starting-gate-granules

    About making her meal more palatable, I agree with you that carrots may be offering too much sugar. Why not give some stevia or even better, monk fruit extract, a try? These natural sweeteners do not contain any sugar and they do not induce a surge in insulin like others do (i.e., sucralose, aspartame).

    I can assist you with proper supplementation if we visit. But while on my website, please look over my Resource library for information that I believe you’ll find very helpful.

    Best wishes,

    Dr. Juliet Getty 🙂

  • September 25, 2021 at 9:25 am

    Hello. Thank you for the information contained in your article, and in your replies to other posts. I am very tempted to try the ‘free choice’ method with my IR pony, but am just a bit nervous in case it all goes wrong! Briefly, my 4 yr old Sec D Gelding got a bad abscess in his near fore last summer and it took 8 weeks to track and heal. Meanwhile, he got mechanical laminitis in his off fore. He had the 2 months on ‘barn’ rest. I have a 45 x 20 foot barn, and he has access to a small dry lot. When he got sound, I was then able to turn him out in early autumn, starting with a few hours, then overnight, then, as winter approached, 24/7. His weight ballooned before I realised it was happening. At the same time I had been diagnosed with cancer and had had 6 months of chemo, so I wasn’t at my best. He lost some weight over winter, but not enough, and he started the spring too weighty, if I’m honest. He stayed well and sound, however, with just overnight turnout through the spring and early summer but on June 9th came up footy. Having put his previous foot issues down to the abscess and too much strain on the other leg, I was reluctant to accept this was actually full blown laminitis – but it was. He had a sugar test and tested at 165, against a ‘normal’ of around 38. He’s been back on barn rest ever since, on 8 kg hay a day, which my vets want me to soak for 12 hours, but which I only soak for max 1 hour as I understand this achieves just as much. He also has Metformin (40 tabs a day) and Levothyrothine, intended to speed up his metabolism. He has lost some weight, and, after a first, very worrying, monthly re-test in which his sugar rose to 185, and a second in which it rose to 300, we finally saw a drop to 69 in his test in September. I am resigned now to the fact that a totally ‘normal’ life is probably not achievable for my pony, so I am looking for a way in which he can return to a more ‘natural’ life, without the stress and deprivation (not to mention risk of colic and ulcers) caused by this intense dieting and confinement to his barn and dry lot. My hay tested at 8.3% sugar, 2.4 Mcal per kg digestible energy and 1 Mcal per KG Foregut digestion. I also feed him Simple System feed, which is entirely forage based, low sugar and starch, and is fed soaked. I live on top of a Welsh mountain, with poor / rough grazing and plenty of hills and bog to make a challenging environment. Do you think my pony is a candidate for the ‘free choice’ feeding with hay, while I try to reduce his weight further, and that maybe, with care, I could allow him some night time turn out on the winter pasture (frost permitting)? Sorry this is such a long message but I am at my wits end and your article just made so much sense!! BTW – I have started to do groundwork, long-reining etc. with my pony but my health has not permitted me to back him. A further issue with dieting is that I can’t get him to concentrate if I take him out of his lot, for exercise, as he’s just so desperate for something to eat and pulls for the grass all the time!! Any advice would be very, very much appreciated. Thanks and best regards. Karla

  • October 12, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Hello Karla,

    Thank you for your patience. And I do hope that your cancer has gone into remission. That has to have been a very difficult time for you.

    The short answer to your question is, “YES – your pony can absolutely live a normal life!” What he has been through tells me that his condition has worsened and he likely has gastric ulcerations. The only way to heal those is to give him hay free-choice – available all day and all night, so that there is always something available for him.

    Pasture grazing is likely not beneficial, so for now, you must keep him off of it. But your hay seems quite suitable. Soaking for 30 minutes is sufficient. Any longer than that and you only product a lot of bacterial growth.

    There are key supplements that must also be provided – the most important of which is a source of omega 3s. Ground flaxseeds or chia seeds will do nicely. If you have access to a source of DHA, that would be even better.

    A multiple vitamin/mineral supplement that does not contain iron is very important.

    I have a large number of articles on this subject in the Resource Library on my website – https://gettyequinenutrition.com that I believe you’ll find helpful. Take a look at the articles on Overweight horses: https://gettyequinenutrition.com/pages/resource-library-overweight-horses as well as Free Choice Feeding Concepts (there will be some overlap): https://gettyequinenutrition.com/pages/resource-library-free-choice-forage-feeding-concepts

    A slow feeder net or Porta Grazer is worth trying to allow him to slow down his consumption.

    Once your pony starts to get better, you can likely allow him to graze some in the early morning hours, but for now, it is not worth the risk. See if you can put him in a dry area, rather than his stall, along with a buddy so his stress hormones are not a factor.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Very best wishes,
    Dr. Juliet Getty 🙂


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