Every spring our pony Sugar develops a problem walking. For several weeks in April and May she lies down most of the time and seems very sore when she walks. Usually by late June or July she gets better and is fine for the rest of the year. How can we prevent her from getting lame again this spring?
It sounds as if Sugar suffers from laminitis. Also known as founder, the disease unfortunately is common in ponies. Laminitis is caused when the sensitive part of the hoof, the laminae, swell. The hard outer hoof wall cannot stretch, and severe pain and damage to the living tissue result. The effect is very much like a person who gets a bruise under a finger nail. Nobody knows exactly why, but when horses and ponies eat too much rich food their intestines produce toxins. These toxins then go into the bloodstream and cause the hoof laminae to swell. The lush green grass in spring is a common source of these toxins. Sugar may be eating more lush spring grass than her system can handle. She spends much of her time lying down in the spring because of the laminitis - her hooves hurt when she bears weight . Although there is no reliable way to completely cure an established case of laminitis, you can concentrate on correcting any existing damage, preventing new occurrences of laminitis, and relieving the pain when Sugar is severely lame. Because Sugar has had the condition for several years, she probably has suffered permanent changes in hoof shape. Your first step should be to contact your veterinarian and a farrier and outline a strategy for corrective hoof trimming. Your pony may benefit from special shoes or pads which apply pressure to the frog, rather than the toe of the hoof. Frog pressure helps the blood circulate through the hoof. Because eating new spring grass probably caused Sugar's problem, she should be kept away from lush pasture. As the grass begins to mature in late spring and summer, she can be let out to graze for short periods of time each day. If she can tolerate this without developing lameness, you can increase her pasture time. Keep Sugar in a stall or dirt lot with soft footing. Feed her grass hay - alfalfa hay and grain may be too rich. Consult your veterinarian to determine an exact feeding schedule. He or she can prescribe pain killers to use of Sugar experiences flare ups when she seem particularly lame.