Hoof Nutrition Intelligence Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.

Below you will find Part 1 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.

Q: How can I avoid the potential problems due to pasture-associated laminitis?

By Shannon Pratt-Phillips, PhD

A: The reason the risk of laminitis increases in the spring is that as the days get longer, the extra sunlight increases photosynthesis, which results in starch, sugar and, in some plants, fructan production. Cooler nighttime temperatures prevent the plants from using these sugars, and they accumulate.

Elevated insulin concentrations have been shown to trigger laminitis, and horses that are grazing in a “sugary” pasture or that are already insulin resistant (and have high resting insulin concentrations) may have their insulin concentrations reach critical levels. So, prevention of laminitis is two-fold: limit pasture intake, particularly when sugar content is expected to be high and prevent/manage insulin resistance.

If horses are out in a big field all winter, they will likely adapt to the newly sprouting grass gradually. Horses that do not typically have access to pasture should be introduced slowly – starting with 30 minutes to 1 hour per day and increasing slowly, to give time for the microbial organisms to adapt.

Regardless of adaptation, it is possible for the pasture, and sugars within it, to have higher sugar and/or fructan content than a horse can handle. Therefore, horses may have to be limited in turnout at certain times of the year.

In the spring and fall, we often have nice sunny days, but with cooler nights. These low overnight temperatures lend themselves to sugar accumulation, and horses grazing after a frost may be at risk. Similarly, on sunny days, sugars accumulate during the day and peak in the late afternoon/early evening. Therefore, horses may need to be restricted from pasture during these times.

Good pasture management can also decrease the risk of pasture associated laminitis. Keeping grasses in their growing stage by mowing regularly can help force the plants to continuously use sugars and not accumulate them. Also, using pasture rotation and giving horses adequate pasture quantity (by acreage per horse) can help horses more effectively graze pasture. 

Dealing with spring pasture may be time-consuming and stressful for both the owner and horse, but consider that laminitis is a far worse fate.

Shannon Pratt-Phillips is an equine nutritionist at North Carolina State University that was featured in “How to Avoid Pasture Associated Laminitis in the Spring” an article posted in March of 2016 to the American Farriers Journal website.


Click here to read part 2 of the May 15, 2021 installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: What are the most critical interactions between nutrients and hoof growth? Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.