Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Managing the Metabolic Horse

With all the talk these days about health, healthcare, expensive treatments, obesity, and Obamacare, I thought I'd wander off topic a bit and talk about horse care.  I realize many HCC readers don't  ride horses, own them or even take care of the ones they do own, but I'll bet that most people don't realize how difficult it can be to manage some of the health issues that can pop up in horses.

I bring this up because it's very likely that my horse, April, has foundered.  She's a big horse, very fat, an easy keeper, and she came in yesterday very lame.  We'll know what has happened, how bad it is or isn't. Founder can happen from too much lush green grass and some horses are prone to founder.  April has not foundered before but she is fat which can make her prone to the disease.  Others call this laminitis.  It is very painful for horses and many never fully recover and all have to be "managed".

Alfie is an "IR" horse which means he is insulin-resistant (just like in people) and we have to take special care of him too.  Alfie was diagnosed this spring when the grass came out and he had unusual fat deposits on his hind quarters.  A blood test verified our fears.  He too has to be well-managed. So what does that mean for the insulin-resistant horse?  Well, in reality, we take the same care of him as anyone should who has diabetes or pre-diabetes issues.  No drugs are needed and he's on a special diet.  Regular exercise and no sugar ever. No lush grass or hay (sugar). It's not rocket science and those who have IR-type issues could fix their own symptoms by eating a low-starch diet.  He gets hay that is low in sugar and we soak it in water to take out the sugar if we're not sure.  He gets ridden very regularly. No winter months off for him anymore.  We watch him like a hawk.  He does not go out on lush green pastures anymore and we muzzle him if we need to. Grass is not his friend.  He's old enough that the issues appeared and some horses are just prone to being IR.  IR horses are more prone to founder especially in the spring and fall months when the grass is lush.

With Alfie and possibly April having metabolic issues, my horse keeping days will be longer and more arduous going forward, just like for anyone who has friends and family with medical issues that need constant monitoring.  But I am committed to taking care of them both and will do whatever it takes to keep them happy and healthy for the rest of their years.  Who knew horses could be so complicated?



  1. I just found your blog today, and am so happy. I rode in the mid to late 1970's with Gloria Fennel, and the name Ellie Wood Baxter came to my mind, because Gloria and Ellie Wood must have been close friends. Those were the happiest times of my life, riding out with Gloria at Darby's Folley. I did not hunt as I was an engineering student, but to ride with gloria you had to come 'at least two days' And I loved it. Because I had the longest legs in the county, she always put me on the tallest horses, and I had no idea I was riding the head hunt horse until I was invited to the opening and I saw Friendly and he didn't even look at me and even Cookie, who had responsibility for him until his owner came to mount said, Honeychild, he doesn't even know me as soon as he starts getting braided and he knows that all those horses out there know him and will have to follow him. I still have the notes I took when I showed up for someone to be on hand for Gloria and as I helped she gave the most wonderful psychological profile of every horse in her barn, especially the ones she put me on. I earlier had wondered why I had to always be at the back of the field. And why I was invited on the Friday ladies ride. Now I understand it was to keep Friendly happy as he had just hunted hard on Thursday. I didn't know any of those ladies between me and Gloria on this quiet walk, but boy did I overhear some juicy stuff that I didn't realize the significance of for 40 years. Hope you and your horse have a healthy and loving season.

  2. Ann, I'm so sorry your mare foundered. It is just the worst thing to go through, and not knowing whether it will turn around or won't. Just the pain management aspect can be overwhelming. Sounds as though you have caught it early on, so I'm hoping it's a quick turnaround for her, and your farrier can keep her on top. I know Grayson Foundation did some research on protein management and founder, thinking that might be a contributory factor. Non-horse people cannot appreciate just how fragile that hoof can be. Please keep us all posted on her progress, and our thoughts are with you.

  3. Ann I'm so sorry to read this news about April. You are a good "horse mom" and take good, careful care of your mounts. for such strong, powerful beasts they sure can seem fragile sometimes. I once asked our farrier how on earth they survive in the wild and he said wild horses walk much more than ours do, and develop a thick fibrous pad in their hoof to protect it. He also said they seek cold, icy water to soothe the inflammation. I'm wishing you all the very best as you navigate the next steps in care and treatment. Stay positive - there is hope! They can recover, just not as quickly as we would like. I'm sending lots of healthy good wishes to you all.


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