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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

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.

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.

Zinny – Before & After 10 Days

With some guidance from CHH Zinny has made a great progress in his recovery from Laminitis.

On Sept 15th we received a message from his concerned owner: “We’re really struggling with laminitis since moving down here”.

Two weeks ago Zinny had been taken off the big paddock because he started showing signs of being slow and stiff but was getting worse not better ever since. He was moved to a large dirt yard which still had a fair covering of very short green grass.

We explained that he will need to be 100% off all green grass, preferably on a deep, soft surface.

As she was local to us Jenny paid a visit on Sat 17th Sept. It is obvious in the first part of the video clip (See below) that Zinny, despite being on bute, was very sore. You can also see how tight his muscles were.

At the time, Jilly was hard at work wheel-barrowing sawdust into a big new loose-box in the corner of the shed. This was ready for Zinny and his little companion by later that afternoon.

It was also recommended Jilly dissolve AlleviateGold & SOS in water and give by mouth (every couple of hours for the rest of the weekend) some of our nutrients which have proved extremely helpful in these situations.

Jilly reported at 9pm that night: “Just did the 4th one. He was laying down looking very comfortable

She kept up the nutrient therapy all day Sunday too. Then it was down to twice a day as she had to go to work.

By the next day you can see the huge improvements - Jilly said he was back to being “Naughty and feisty! Feeling much better!

Meanwhile in her spare time, Jilly went about the equally big task of covering up the very short, green grass in the outside area to give them more room to move.

So worth the effort because they absolutely love the sawdust. It was only a few days before he was moving much more freely.

Ten days later they were allowed out in the big paddock BRIEFLY ‘for a ‘hoon’!

Now he is out of crisis he is back on his small bucket feed of Timothy Chaff with his Premium Horse Minerals/salt and some crushed linseed.

Since that grass was the cause of the episode in the first place– to make sure he doesn’t relapse, he can’t be allowed to eat that grass. It was short, dark green and riddled with clover.

One of the most Frequently Asked Questions people ask when horses are getting over a bout of laminitis is: “When can they go back out on the grass?” There is no point in putting them back out on the same grass that caused the problem.

I know people do, but it is VERY RISKY and since laminitis is one of the most cruel conditions a horse can suffer and it is entirely preventable, why risk it?

After one laminitis episode these horses and ponies are EXTREMELY prone to another. All it takes is the right environmental conditions and it can happen over-night. Some rain and warmth in spring or cool, cloudy, frosty conditions or sunny afternoons followed by cool nights as in Autumn. It is NOT  worth the risk – they are best to eat their grass as HAY.

Longer term, if you own the property, you can think ahead and have available some grass at a suitable, much more mature and stalky stage of growth. Even so, since you also need to be concerned about the quantity they consume, access needs to be diligently controlled. It is about applying the principles outlined in the last couple of posts.

If you would like more specific help feel free to fill out our Enquiry Form

The sort of grass that caused the laminitis for Zinny is common on lifestyle blocks and many horse properties. It is a frequent cause of Pasture-Associated Laminitis.

Zinny - from hobbling to bouncing 

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