The 'laminitis founder stance'

This pony shows the classic rocked back stance of a pony with laminitis

laminitis in a horse

Jasper was in bad shape when he first arrived. He was a little reluctant to move and note his tight muscles.

Contrast this with jasper a year later below...

laminitis healed

The Interesting Thing About Winter Laminitis

You would think that as grass growth slows down, laminitis prone horses and ponies would be less likely to tip over into laminitis.

However this is not the case and autumn/winter grass is just as likely to be problematic for those susceptible horses and ponies as grass in spring.

For many years we have observed that any time grass is GREEN, whether short or long, it poses a danger for EMS or laminitis prone equines. Even horses with no outward signs may be susceptible. And low grade (sub-clinical – just below the surface) laminitis can easily go unrecognised.

Here in New Zealand and lower regions of Australia, where winter temperatures are nowhere near as cold as in parts of UK, Northern Europe, Scandinavia, North America and other regions where horses are living in snow and ice for months at a time, plenty of horses succumb to laminitis even though grass growth has slowed right down.

The healthy equine hoof is well adapted to very cold conditions to ensure it doesn’t freeze when exposed to icy conditions for extended periods. However in the case of our domestic horses, if their metabolism is compromised by EMS, Insulin Resistance or any kind of Insulin Dysregulation, blood supply to the internal structures of the hoof becomes subject to abnormal constriction which can precipitate an episode of laminitis. It is therefore prudent to feed these horses and ponies forage and feed which is least likely to aggravate insulin levels and which will serve the purpose of ultimately reversing the syndrome.

It is recognised that Lucerne/alfalfa cannot be fed to ‘some’ horses with laminitis but ‘nobody knows why’.
The clues lie in the similarity of its nutrient profile with winter grass. Hence, for the following reasons we don’t recommend feeding it to ANY equine who is prone to or has laminitis despite it’s relatively low sugar content.

There are two significant common denominators between winter grass and legumes like lucerne/alfalfa or clover. They are simultaneously excessive in both Potassium and Nitrogen/Crude Protein. When one is high the other is inevitably also high.

Out of nine forage analyses CHH conducted from late Autumn/winter pastures that caused laminitis all were excessive in potassium (2.3-4.1%) and nitrogen/crude protein (16.8-36.3%) and yet all were well below 10% in sugars.

Both potassium and amino acids are known ‘insulin secretagogues’ (substances which promote secretion of insulin).

Potassium is usually ‘written off’ as not a problem – however as with all aspects of physiology it cannot be separated out and excluded especially when combined with the effect of amino acids (within Crude Protein) on insulin secretion. Studies have shown that horses with EMS had a “9-fold greater insulinemic response to the consumption of a high protein meal compared to controls”. In a nutshell this is because amino acids which are in excess of requirements can be converted to glucose and thereby contribute to excess insulin production.

Take Home Message:

EMS and laminitis prone individuals, for the purpose of prevention and normalising their errant metabolism, are best fed ‘Low Nutrient Density’ forage, ie grass hay that is LOW in potassium, CP and sugars. Most hays will need to be soaked to achieve low levels of these aspects.

Then be very mindful about what hardfeeds consist of. To address EMS, in our experience it is best to provide ‘non-calorie’ nutrients ie the minimal quantity of feed that the horses will consume their BROAD SPECTRUM minerals & vitamins. We emphasis the broad spectrum because all minerals (and other nutrients) require the presence of specific co-factors for them to be effective. They do not work on their own, rather as a 'team'!

CHH have consistently observed the best results since following these principles over the years.

"Netta" the pony in the video illustrates the point - she became laminitic on winter grass but got no better when taken off that grass and put onto a very high lucerne diet. It was after removing all the lucerne and switching to plain grass hay that she turned the corner and really improved.


1. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition Asghar Rastegar. Chapter 195 Serum Potassium

2. Forage crude protein concentration affects horses’ insulin response - Sara Muhonen Feb 17, 2018

3. A high protein meal affects plasma insulin concentrations and amino acid metabolism in horses with equine metabolic syndrome C M M Loos 1, S C Dorsch 1, S E Elzinga 2, T Brewster-Barnes 1, E S Vanzant 1, A A Adams 3, K L Urschel 4

Pasture Associated

Here are the first Signs:

  • Walking slowly/stiffly

  • Muscles feel and look tight

  • Lying down more than normal

  • Tender (‘footy’) on hard ground or over stones

  • Crest feels hard rather than being soft and wobbly

  • Shifting weight from foot to foot

  • You can feel the Digital Pulse

  • Farrier/trimmer notices ‘pinking’ (blood) in the white line

  • Rocked back stance

  • Reluctance to move at all, worse when moving the fore-hand to the side

You need to act urgently - you may be able to ‘dodge a bullet'.

This is what WE do:
  • Move the horse to a Dry Lot where there is ZERO green. If you don’t have one you can make an ‘emergency’ one

  • Call your vet for assessment, x-rays and appropriate pain relief*

  • Feed plain grass hay (soaked for 30-60minutes, make sure plenty of water relative to hay quantity) Serve up in a small mesh hay-net to facilitate trickle feeding and prevent the horse from running out

  • No hardfeed UNTIL the horse’s pain levels have decreased significantly.

  • The surface of the dry lot needs to consist of SOFT footing and be conducive to the horse lying down a LOT

*Giving Bute is appropriate in the short term and far preferable to the horse suffering the excruciating pain of a laminitis episode.

Feel free to contact CHH for support. We spend a considerable amount of time every day talking people through what they can do in their situation – free of charge

In our experience at the coalface – to facilitate the most rapid improvements in a greater number of horses and ponies it is crucial to ensure the forage is not only LOW sugars and starches but also LOW CP (Crude Protein close to or under 10% - Crude Protein also elevates insulin), and low K – (potassium closer to 1% achieved by soaking hay, potassium can also elevate insulin plus cause further downstream metabolic complications).

Avoid feeding any of the following when Horses are in a Laminitis Crisis:

  • Anything GREEN – no pasture grass, no matter how short or sparse, not even in the early mornings.

  • Clover of any description – even a few mouthfuls can induce laminitis and get in the way of recovery

  • Green grass no matter how short – be on patrol for green shoots which may sprout anywhere in their living area including under fence-lines. Do what it takes to eliminate these by covering them up with old carpet, salt, mulch or bark. Be meticulous and vigilant.

  • Lucerne/alfalfa hay, baleage or chaff- might be lower in NSC’s but is far too high Crude Protein and potassium for most laminitis sufferers

  • Fresh herbs – as for above

  • Fresh willow or poplar branches with leaves – as for above - leaves are leaves whether they are grass leaves or tree leaves


hooves before and after laminitis

These hooves belong to Basile (you can read his story here).
Having suffered multiple bouts of laminitis he was finally rehabilitated after being removed from all grass and put on the calmhealthyhorses diet. The difference in his hooves are clear to see.

Netta became laminitic on winter grass, she was then put onto a high lucerne diet and there was no improvement. Once lucerne was switched for plain grass hay she made the dramatic improvement you see here.