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Why Not Lucerne/Alfalfa for EMS and Laminitis

Because it is lower in ‘sugars’ than grass, Lucerne/Alfalfa is often recommended as forage for horses and ponies with EMS and laminitis.

If what you are feeding is working for your horse then don't change a thing. This may offer an explanation for cases that aren't improving as they should.

From our CHH experiences we would not recommend lucerne for the same reason that short, green grass, clovers and fresh herbs are not appropriate for these horses and ponies.


Lily’s story below from Tracey Daniels, Crystal Sands Equine Wellness in Victoria is just one example...

 Lily’s demeanour, behaviour deteriorated seriously within a couple of days of her high Lucerne diet, the mineral imbalances she already had from the green grass she had been on turned into hyper-sensitivity

- Her sore feet turned into laminitis

- Lily’s bloods showed hyperinsulinemia.

The fact potassium elevates insulin (independently of sugars) and lucerne is high in potassium is a good enough reason not to feed it to horses and ponies with EMS and laminitis who already have high insulin.

- Soaked grass hay is a far better forage, the soaking not only reduces sugars by up to 30% but reduces potassium by 50%

- In some regions of Australia it can be a mission to source grass hay. Google 'Top Foda' - their low-sugar grasses are also low potassium, even the rye-grass

Lily – 11-year-old Welsh B pony mare. Her story started well over a year ago when she presented with very out of character behaviour. Extremely grumpy, agitated and bucking when being ridden, biting when being girthed and generally didn’t want to be touched at all.

Lily was seen by the local vet. Sub-clinical laminitis along with Equine Metabolic Syndrome were suspected and confirmed by bloods which showed high Insulin reading.

On veterinary advice Lily’s diet was changed to adlib Lucerne hay, Lucerne chaff, Oaten chaff, speedibeet, with added vitamins.

But within a couple of days Lily was going out of her mind and her behaviour had become dangerous.

Her owner started researching online and came across Tracey’s website. She thought that Lily’s reluctance to walk was because she was very muscle sore and this could be the reason for her behaviour.

Tracey arrived to find a pony that not only had fatty deposits over many areas of her body and a rock hard ‘cresty’ neck but was also in incredible pain. She was extremely reluctant to walk because of her extremely sore feet and was super-sensitive to touch everywhere, even kicking out and attempting to bite.

Tracey knew straight away that this was more than just muscle soreness but commenced muscle therapy on her anyway and within a couple of minutes Lily started to relax which then allowed her to complete the treatment. At least now the pony was relaxed and looking a lot more relieved.

The next priority was to evaluate her diet in order to get her back to soundness and good health.

Lily’s diet was changed again: The Lucerne was completely deleted and replaced with adlib soaked grass hay, a couple of handfuls of oaten/wheaten chaff with a tiny sprinkle of coprice for taste, salt, Supreme Vit & Min, GrazeEzy and SOS. No exercise as she was so sore on her feet. Due to the extreme symptoms the GrazeEzy and SOS were given 3 times a day.

The purpose of this diet is not only to lowers sugars but also potassium and Crude Protein. The Supreme Vit & Min supplies the non-calorie nutrients the horse needs while the salt, GrazeEzy and SOS bring the minerals to within parameters that the horse’s own homeostatic mechanisms can work how they should.

Five days later Tracey revisited Lily to find her feeling much better, willing to walk and even though still ‘sore’ in certain areas of her body she allowed Tracey to touch her all over and give her another muscle treatment. She still had a long way to go but was improving. Her water and hay were moved further apart to motivate some movement now she was comfortable enough to do so.

Then Tracey didn’t hear anything for 4-5 weeks. On enquiry it turned out that unfortunately, because the owners circumstances changed, Lily had been given away to people who put her out on a huge amount of rich green grass. Within two days Lily was cripplingly lame. Their farrier advised that Lily was “useless and should be put down as she would never recover from this.”

At this point Tracey offered to have Lily at home to properly rehabilitate her and then place her where she would be safe from any more laminitis episodes!

Lily arrived at Tracey’s place where rehab could start immediately. She lived on a Dry Lot with a SOFT surface where there was ZERO green grass.

She was put back onto the diet of soaked grass hay, along with a minimal feed (3 x day): a handful of white chaff, crushed linseed with SOS & GrazeEzy, Supreme Vit & Min and salt.

By the third day Lily wasn’t foot sore so Tracey could start trimming her feet little by little to correct the imbalances. She was comfortable enough to start 10 minutes hand walking three times a day. Feeds were decreased to twice a day.

A week later she was trotting happily. Tracey continued with this program for another 4 weeks, the only change was that the hay was no longer soaked.

Lily was by then being ridden by Tracey’s daughter trotting, cantering and generally having a ball.

After eight weeks at Tracey’s place her bloods were taken again and they came back completely normal with insulin well within the normal range.

Lily was loving life and having a ball being ridden and going out and about. Her feet were great, her body was great, she was no longer sore, and the ‘cresty’ neck and fatty deposits were all gone. Correct diet, exercise and hoof care all played a part in bringing this pony back to optimal health.

Lily has now found her forever home and looks happy and healthy over 12 months later.

Lily attended her first show with her new 4 year old rider and took home several ribbons!

Tracey’s aim is to educate horses owners and professionals that there is an alternative to traditional treatment of these conditions that can bring these amazing animals back to health and an enjoyable life.

If you live in Victoria and would like Tracey’s help her email is:

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