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Don't Put Me Down Just Yet...

April 13, 2017

Laminitis/Founder is the second biggest killer of horses.  Not because the condition actually causes death, but managing these horses back to health is fraught with challenges and misinformation (therefore often unsuccessful, hence the horrendous statistics) leading to the heartbreaking decision to euthanise.  But wait... euthanasia may not be necessary!



Here at Happy Horse Australia we see and hear of many horses being PTS unnecessarily. When radiographs / X-rays reveal that penetration or significant rotation has occurred, it is very common advice that euthanasia should be seriously considered.  


No, not every horse can or should be saved.  If the pedal bone is damaged, you have to ask yourself "what quality of life is this horse capable of having?".  Depending on the degree of damage, a ridden future may be unlikely, and a life with constant pain/discomfort or abscessing is also not a good prospect (or ethical).  


But what if the pedal bones are in good shape?  


Don't let penetration or rotation be your deciding factor to euthanise.  We can successfully rehabilitate many of these horses, even if there has been major pedal bone rotation or penetration. 


We have utmost respect for vets and we couldn't do what we do without them, BUT... the science has changed A LOT in the past 5-10yrs regarding rehabilitation of laminitis.  Many people (including your awesome vet or farrier) may not be familiar with contemporary approaches.  


It really is the differences that make ALL the difference!


Horse 1

This is a current horse in crisis.  We received a phone call from a vet the other day regarding our opinion on prognosis for this little horse.  Consensus was leaning toward euthanasia (much of that was based on the degree of rotation and being quite close to penetration).  We need to see the horse to make a full assessment of course, but just from the view of radiographs and speaking with the attending vet, our prognosis is fairly positive and not overly determined by degree of rotation or penetration.  


Penetration is much harder to manage in terms of care & recovery, but certainly very achievable.  The longer the horse's health 'teeters' on the edge, the greater risk of penetration. We are waiting to hear how the owners want to proceed.  We hope they don' leave it too long.   


Horse 2

This horse was in trouble for some time before we were brought in.  It was strongly advised by the vets (different vets to horse 1) to be euthanised.  This horse was already penetrating on our initial visit.   She went in her hind feet (not as common) but fortunately she had an extremely committed and courageous owner who followed our program to the letter!  She made an incredibly fast recovery, of which the attending vet was very surprised.  She was rideable within 7 months.  


Horse 3

This horse was in such a bad way.  He had a heart rate of 140+bpm, pretty much ground-bound (couldn't stand) and rightly so, was recommended for euthanasia.  The owner contacted us out of desperation before such a final decision was made.  Yes he had laminitis and yes he had some rotation in some of his feet, but the main cause of such high, sustained heart rates was the whopping, MASSIVE set of abscesses coming through.  Neither us, nor the attending vet had ever seen anything like them.  


Abscesses are common in laminitic horses and can cause excruciating pain.  Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the pain from pedal bone rotation, from the pain of abscessing.  We guarantee (because we have seen it) there would be scores of horses out there that are PTS from abscesses.  This horse was being ridden again 12 months later.  He has since retired due to arthritis.  


Horse 4 (not pictured)

We were called to this horse early 2015 (several weeks into a laminitic episode).  The owner was unable to commit to our recommendations, heeding mixed advice from neighbours and attending vet.  Fundamental changes in management were not being implemented, and despite our warnings of the consequences, the horse continued to worsen.  Outdated advice sticks like a bur, reseeding misinformation and unfortunately, we were left with little choice but to withdraw our services as the situation was headed for an avoidable yet inevitable train wreck.  This horse penetrated in a couple of hooves (after it left our care) and we're told the horse and owner are battling to manage the laminitis still to this day : (  



Time is of the essence


I'd like to say call your vet first, but we see all too often owners/horses going down a slippery slope of traditional care and getting much worse before our assistance is sought.  We want your vet involved so we can liaise with them from the get-go, helping you navigate your way through "the differences that make ALL the difference".  By all means, call your vet first if you want to, but don't tarry getting us on board!  


Worldwide, treatment and understanding of laminitis is changing, but it takes time for breakthroughs to trickle down the line.  Fortunately there is a new wave of equine practitioners with their finger on the pulse - vets, nutritionists, farriers/podiatrists etc. having remarkable results, especially when they work together!  


Rehabilitation is not for everyone, it's a big commitment.  It's going to cost you time and money.  How much?   That will largely depend on several factors - owner/environmental limitations, severity of the case, compliance etc.  This is not an article about how we do it (that would take too long) more so that successful rehabilitation is very achievable and contemporary methods have much higher success rates than outdated, traditional treatments.  


Getting a horse through a serious acute or chronic case of laminitis is not for the fainthearted or the weekend carer.  Daily care/supervision is a must and there is no telling how long it will take. Some recover with lightening speed (6 months is lightening speed!), some take much longer. And then there's post recovery care - PREVENTION.  If you've made it that far, chances are the tears and relentless learning curve has put you in good stead of ever going through that again!  


Struggling with the rehab journey?  Euthanasia is final.  Here are some other options...


1) Happy Horse Australia can assist you at home (not for severe cases) with a management program that is suited to your horse, your property.  


2) Happy Horse Australia operates a laminitis rehabilitation centre on the far south coast of NSW (Bega Valley).  We have horses come from far and wide - local, Monaro, Snowy Mtns, Canberra, Victoria and beyond.  There are very few places in Australia like this.  We are also quite unique in the sense that we have qualified equine practitioners - Nutritionist, Naturopath, Herbalist & Podiatrist.  We also have established and supportive relationships with several different vets/clinics in the region.  


- 24/7 care 

- qualified practitioners 

- return home with a management plan in place


3) 2nd Chance Program is available for eligible horses.  This option is for owners that can't go the rehab journey (for whatever personal reasons) but do not want to see their beloved horse/pony euthanised.  If the horse fits the criteria (see below) it is surrendered to our ownership, whereby we rehabilitate the horse and find it a suitable and compatible home when/if ready (we are VERY picky).  



The 2nd Chance horse will eventually run with some of our own herd whilst 'proving' itself under various conditions, like track paddocks, returning to pasture, re-training (if applicable), under saddle, trail rides etc. before we deemed it ready for it's new hopefully-forever home.  It will also leave with a prevention/management plan in place



* radiographs / X-rays must be available to view

* must have no or very little damage to pedal bones.  

* must have proven ridden history (or be young enough to make starting from scratch viable)

* must have good prospects (post laminitis recovery) of a ridden future

* each horse / pony is assessed on a case by case basis 



Two examples from our 2nd Chance Program

Both these horses are pictured post-recovery.  They both returned to riding within 6 months




Don't Put Me Down Just Yet...












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