Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Magnum’s Rough Year, Part Two: Oh No! Laminitis!

Not feeling well at all!
by Mary Tulin

Mary and Magnum's story of insulin resistance continues with more hard times, dealt with effectively. A good example of proper horse management. -MG

Magnum really wasn’t feeling well.

His move to a dirt pen with old pals had seemed like the perfect situation: get him off grass, keep him in a herd with room to play. The big dirt pen by the hay barn was roomy, with his old herd right next door. Within weeks after the move, however, he got worse again. Dirt pens are great, but this one was next to pasture, grass within easy reach of questing muzzles. Magnum munched freely, and paid dearly.

Moving in to his new pen... but there was grass at the edge.

I arrived one day to find my beloved horse standing splayed out, head down, looking thoroughly miserable. It was the worst attack yet. He could barely walk, sort of lurching around. His left front foot was the worst, swollen, hot, and possibly developing an abscess. We made the painfully slow walk to new quarters, a pen with a rubber mat and a nice pile of shavings in one area, for that extra dose of comfort.

Soaking his foot in hot water seemed to bring relief, that first day, followed by cold soaks the following days, recommended by Jerry Schmidt. Magnum was a good patient, willing to stand quietly, foot in bucket, and unusually ready to be cuddled (see first photo). Certainly not his usual opinionated, party boy self.

Yep, it was laminitis. The abscess never materialized, but Magnum’s feet were trashed and shouted “laminitis!”: the hoof walls were quickly showing wrinkles, collapsing, and growing alarmingly fast, developing an ill-favored cow pie look. Needless to say, Magnum was not going to run and play for a long while. And I stayed off of him until the next summer.
That ill-favored cow pie look...

Magnum lived in the rubber pen for a couple of months, graduating to his current quarters, a dirt pen (with dirt borders!) he shares with a fellow easy keeper Morgan named Remy. The arrangement suited them both. They have lost weight and returned to their natural, bright and shiny selves, thanks to their new lifestyle. For Magnum, that meant a new diet and new habits for him and his owner (me).

[More photos at end of post.]

The details:

What we did, and a disclaimer. The following are steps I took, with the advice of Mary Gallagher and a host of online references. Magnum’s trimmer, Audrey Bryant, kept Magnum’s feet balanced, and advised regarding his activity level during his recovery, which took nine months. I mention supplements I chose, based on the above, but do not attempt to offer medical explanations or argue one way or the other. The basic idea was to get Magnum off grass completely, supplement his forage correctly, and add a few recommended supplements to counter inflammation and support healthy metabolism. Readers may find other advice or approaches that work better for their horses.

In part one, I quoted a definition of insulin resistance. Here is a definition of laminitis (which was a result of Magnum’s insulin resistance):

Laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive structures in the hoof called the lamellae. The lamellae are the means by which the coffin bone is held tight within the hoof capsule. When viewing the sole of a healthy hoof you can tell how good the connection is by looking at the white line. If the white line is tight (narrow in width) then there is a strong connection. If the white line is stretched then the connection is compromised - see diagrams below. Untreated laminitis often leads to Founder which is where the bone becomes detached from the hoof capsule and in severe cases will penetrate through the sole. (Quoted from all-natural-horse-care.com. Read the whole article.)

More trimming. Audrey Bryant, who had suggested Magnum get off grass months earlier, doubled down on his hoof care, with more frequent trims to manage the rapid, poor quality growth of his ailing hooves. Keeping the heels low and the toes trimmed back saved his feet from further damage while he basically grew a new set of hooves, millimeter by millimeter.

Native grass hay. His feed changed forever: native grass hay grown at Freedom Farm, naturally low in sugar, replaced the somewhat greener, slightly sweeter second cutting he was used to. Soaking hay to remove all sugar is also recommended, but I went with a la carte, for starts. Soaking can take the good stuff out, too. Thankfully, Magnum has done fine on dry, native grass hay.

CalTrace supplement. To this I added California Trace, a mineral supplement designed to balance West coast hay. It is recommended for horses in our area, and thankfully, Magnum had no objection.

Vitamin E, magnesium citrate, and turmeric. I perused online recommendations for supplements for insulin-resistant, laminitic horses, and found that Vitamin E as an anti-inflammatory and magnesium for digestion were on the forever menu. I went with SmartPak’s basic vitamin E pellet, and bulk magnesium citrate from Bulk Supplements (through Amazon). Also, interestingly, turmeric was highly recommended as an anti-inflammatory and generally gut-friendly addition. Soon I was making what I call ‘turmeric glop’ at home, transporting a few days’ worth in a thermos, liquefied with warm water.

Basic grass pellets. Gone were oats and COB, his former munchie-while-being-groomed. A couple small scoops of orchard grass pellets were the new mix-in.

Thank heaven, he eats it up! Magnum’s new feed was decidedly orangey-green, moist, and exotic-smelling. And for the first time since I’d owned him, he was not only devouring the stuff, but licking his bowl and chasing stray pellets like an equine vacuum cleaner.

I guess he liked it. (His roommate Remy eats basically the same mix, but prefers his sopping wet. Guy’s gotta know himself!)

To summarize, Magnum lives on:

- 2 daily feedings of Freedom Farm-grown native grass hay
- 2 small scoops (about 2 cups) of orchard grass pellets, mixed with recommended doses of:
- Cal Trace supplement (iron-free, adds copper/zinc and other micronutrients lacking in Northwest hay)
- Vitamin E (SmartPak pellets)
- magnesium citrate powder (pure, sold in bulk on Amazon)
- generous pour (1/2 cup?) liquefied turmeric glop

2019 update: same hay, plus supplemental 1x/day of - 2 scoops Special Blend low carb/hi protein pellets, Cal Trace Plus supplement (good for seniors), vitamin E by Horsetech, scoop of magnesium citrate, liquified turmeric glop (turmeric, pepper, coconut oil, water).

Oh, and about treats: Magnum gets

- NO more carrots and apples (except a chunk or two on days he’s had plenty of exercise)
- Purina Packer Pellets (this is my own discovery and choice; while they have a bit of molasses, PPPs are mostly fortified grain middlings and are basically feed, not cookies, so in small quantity, they seem fine. I can’t quite reconcile myself to minuscule grass pellets or some such as a ‘treat’. And alfalfa cubes are messy in my pockets.)

2019 update: Packer Pellets are Long since out, for the last 2 years he gets low sugar Senior Treats or low sugar pellet treats.

And they lived carefully ever after... So, that's our story, and we're sticking to it! Magnum is, and always will be, insulin resistant. He'll be in dirt pens and off grass for the rest of his life. And his feed will be some version of what I have described. Small price to pay to have my happy, healthy, fun-loving boy back!

Photos in chronological order:

September move to dirt pen. Coat looking pretty poor, with dimples and fatty places apparent.

November 2015, after trim. Front feet especially stressed.
Late December 2015, front feet just trimmed.
Late December 2015, white line (around inside edge of hoof wall) very wide and unhealthy.

January 2016 - Magnum and Remy enjoy native grass hay grown right at home!
March 2016 - Front feet just trimmed, new healthy growth appearing at top (should have trimmed his shaggy hair...)

June 2016 - MUCH better.  Still trimming the fronts, but I could start riding him at this point.

July 2016 - Happy, recovered Magnum enjoys a bit of roughage... gosh knows he wasn't allowed any grass!

July 2016 - Magnum looking better than he has in a long time: trim, shiny, full of energy and with the feet ready to rock!


  1. Helpful overview article by Dr. Kellon:

  2. Update, January 2018:
    Magnum continues to thrive on Native Grass hay in a shared dirt pen. His supplemental feed is now a Special Blend pellet from Oregon (rice bran, flax, other low-carb stuff), Vitamin E powder, magnesium citrate powder, turmeric glop.

  3. Update, July 2019:
    Magnum's IR management continues, with outstanding results - his insulin numbers are in the normal range (35; 40 is the top of normal; this time last year he was at 77, which is moderately elevated; two years ago he was over 200, i.e., off the charts.

    The theme for the past year was More Exercise!! At least 5 days a week, hard, fun play with his buddies, or 10-15 minutes energetic trotting, or a tiring ride. He is in a dirt pen/shelter for life, eating native grass hay and daily supplements (same as above, plus a scoop of soy protein).