A shared concern among most equine owners is how to tell whether a certain horse has a higher risk of laminitis. Two PhD students at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) who are using previous research of laminitis to further understand the disease, according to HorseTalk.

Ashley Ward and Philippa Davies are seeking assistance from native-breed pony owners across northeast Scotland for their research study, a project that entails filling out questionnaires and allowing the researchers to collect samples from their pasture and ponies. The goal is to determine why certain animals, such as those with obesity or abnormal levels of blood hormones, tend to be more susceptible to laminitis than others. A problematic factor is that this isn’t the case for all animals in this category, and thinner, healthier animals are also by no means immune to laminitis.

Both studies explore the relationship between the risk of the disease and the chemical composition of grass in hopes of understanding the potential causes for laminitis in ponies. Why grass? Previous research suggests a correlation between cases of the disease and changes in the content or consumption habits of the pasture-permeated greenery.


Grasses that are high in sugars tend to be unsuitable for animals that are vulnerable to the disease. However, there is not enough information to understand what this means in terms of practical usage. Ward and Davies anticipate that by collecting feces and urine samples from the ponies for testing, they might discover whether differences in a pony’s metabolism and grass consumption could help identify which subjects have a higher risk of laminitis. Their second project will more specifically focus on the annually fluctuating sugar content of grass variations in Scottish pastures.

Dr. Pippa Morrison, lecturer and research fellow at SRUC, understands the importance of identifying cases of laminitis as soon as possible. This is part of the reason she decided to take on the role as one of the supervisors for the study.

“When it happens, laminitis can arrive with little or no warning and can be quite shocking,” Morrison says. “All too often animals suffer extreme pain and the consequences can be devastating.

“These studies have been carefully designed to help us better understand some of the risk factors associated with laminitis, both at the pony and pasture level, and may help to identify animals at increased risk and those for which recurrence of the disease is more likely.”

The hope of this research, made possible through SRUC, Waltham Petcare Science Institute and Aberdeen University’s Rowett Institute, is that it will guide the way toward evidence-based biomarkers. By doing so, Ward and Davies aim to create a new way of identifying animals that pose a high risk of laminitis. If manageable, it would not only offer valuable resources to horse owners but open up new possibilities for treatment to help reduce the risk of obtaining the disease.

Davies and Ward are looking for healthy native-breed ponies aged 4 years and over, with no previous diagnosis of PPID (equine Cushing’s disease), to take part in the studies. For more information on the study, contact projectPAL@sruc.ac.uk.