The Spring ‘Plague…’

by Linda Chamberlain

Alarmist? Or is Jaime Jackson’s latest book on laminitis a wake-up call…?

He describes the disease as a holocaust, a plague of such proportions that there is a whole industry profiting from the suffering of our horses but failing to bring a lasting cure.

JJ-3Vets, farriers and pharmaceutical companies make money by treating the symptoms of laminitis but continue to ignore the triggers, says US farrier-turned-trimmer, Jackson, in his latest, hard-hitting book.

And in the meantime the horse continues to suffer a sometimes-fatal disease which owners struggle to treat amid all the conflicting advice.

There will be plenty of us in the Northern Hemisphere who won’t want to hear Jackson’s warnings as we approach Spring and the strongest grass flush of the year – a well-known and recognised cause of laminitis. Yet, he is the man who brought us the revolutionary concept of Paddock Paradise, a healthier way of keeping horses by giving them tracks rather than grassy fields to live on. It has made a huge difference to the lives of so many domestic equines – he should be listened to…

laminitisBut is he right to say there is so much laminitis about that it can be seen as a plague?

His concerns are fueled in part by his own hoof care clinics in the US where people learn to trim hooves using cadavers. Of the hundreds of hooves that are used each year, only a tiny percentage show no signs of laminitis.  About seventy five per cent show chronic symptoms and some, he says, are ‘of such mind-boggling deformity that one wonders why there was no law enforcement involved.’

Others agree with his findings.

Nick Hill 12Trimmer, Nick Hill, (left) said: ‘Laminitis is widespread around the world but people are not noticing the warning signs. Jaime Jackson is absolutely correct to try and wake horse owners up to being more careful. He has been doing so for many years and I just wish more people would take the threat seriously.’

Lindsay Setchell, (below) a member of the Hoofing Marvellous group of trimmers in the South West UK, said: ‘It is indeed a problem of pandemic proportions. We see the signs of chronic low grade laminitis in the majority of horses we visit…in fact it is rare to find a horse who has not been affected. When a horse has an acute attack it tends to be obvious and both owners and vets don’t seem to have much of a problem diagnosing it.

Lindsay Setchell‘However, chronic laminitis is something which often goes unnoticed until the horse becomes acute and this can lead to death if not managed correctly. The extremely frustrating thing for us as barefoot specialists is that with a few simple guidelines of what to look out for, laminitis can be stopped in its tracks and the horse can be kept pain free and at low risk for the rest of its life.

‘Whenever we meet a new client the conversation is often very similar with us pointing out the signs of chronic laminitis – then when the client starts to understand they realise they have been seeing symptoms for a long time but didn’t know it. The honest truth is, horses kept on grass WILL experience low to high grade signs and symptoms.’

So why does the horse world remain deaf to the warnings?

The causes Jackson highlights are so endemic that perhaps too great a shift is needed. At the moment it is not possible to get all horses off grass and onto a safe hay diet…yet fields can be tracked, grass reduced, the danger minimised.

It might be that people cling onto their ignorance because changing the future for the horse might make them too cold, too muddy…or too inconvenienced.  Jackson believes there is a profit motive among companies and professionals and calls them the laminitis industry – I would love to hear your views on that one.

Whether there is a plague or not, one thing is fairly certain – laminitis is man made.  Jackson has never seen it during his observations in wild horse country.

Importantly, in his book Laminitis – An Equine Plague of Unconscionable Proportions, he gives the disease a new slant, calling it Whole Horse Inflammatory Disease. Because it’s not simply about the hoof. It begins in the gut and can show up in many part of the body as apparent arthritis, itchy skin or hives.

Common hoof problems such as thrush and white line disease, he says, are symptoms of laminitis and yet are treated in isolation with no reference to the cause. How many horse owners have a topical treatment for thrush on their tackroom shelf? In Jackson’s view the laminitis ‘money trail’ sees it as a profitable way of once again treating only symptoms.

Let’s look at those causes. The key triggers are the rubbish we humans put into the horse’s gut that doesn’t belong there.

dsc_1324GRASS – it’s too sweet, too rich and he says ‘there is no known safe way to pasture horses.’

VACCINATIONS, antibiotics, steroids.

CHEMICALS – such as weedkiller, fertiliser and fungicides.

FEED – the bags and bags of sweet-smelling stuff produced by the multi-million pound / dollar animal feed industry.

Dr Debbie Carley of Thunderbrook Equestrian has said we need to be careful about what goes into a horse’s bucket because commonly used oat and wheat feed are produced from the outer husk of the grain, so have little nutrition but contain a high level of farming chemicals. Her whole herd of horses became seriously ill when she moved them to Norfolk, an intensely arable part of the UK, where they were exposed to drift from neighbouring farms. Symptoms were typical of Whole Horse Inflammatory Disease and only began to heal when she kept them away from farming sprays and developed her own range of feeds. (See my earlier blog – Beware of the Bucket)

But let’s focus on the hoof and those early signs of inflammation that ALL owners should make themselves familiar with.

Watch out for the following…

hm-lami-signshm-lami-signs-3If your horse has a gap, or a groove where a horse shoe might be fitted, if little stones get wedged there, then you have white line disease. SOMETHING IS WRONG.

If there are stress rings on the outer hoof wall. SOMETHING ISN’T RIGHT.

If there is blood in the white line. YOU NEED TO TAKE ACTION NOW.

It is early March and another UK trimmer, Georgie Harrison, has reported seeing many grass-kept horses with blood stains on the white line (see above right). This is a serious warning sign of inflammation, needing an urgent change of lifestyle.

The action Jackson advises in his book is mind-blowingly simple.


Stop all medication, wormers, everything you have been feeding, especially grass, and possibly your farrier’s visits. You should get in touch with a trimmer from his AANHCP to guide you in setting up a more natural lifestyle for your horse, a better diet and a healing trim.

If you suspect laminitis, you should call your vet for a diagnosis. Cold hosing may bring some relief but if your horse is shod, now is not the time to remove shoes. Wait until your trimmer feels the horse is over the danger period.

I have already written a blog about my own horse’s brush with laminitis but here is a quick summary. Like many people aware of the dangers of rich grass I had ‘tracked’ two of my fields using electric fence to minimise grass consumption, top up with hay and increase movement. Effectively, you are creating what looks like a racehorse gallop around the edge of the field. I thought it was working well since the horses were sound. Then one night, my elderly mare broke off the track through the electric fence to the middle, with its long grass. She took two of her friends with her.

My new horse, Sophie, was lame on every foot the next morning and yet the others appeared fine. No wonder grazing rich pasture is called Russian Roulette because there is no predicting which horse might suffer and when. I couldn’t believe that only a few days before I had ridden Sophie who was quite happy barefoot and without hoof boots.

After consulting holistic vet Ralitsa Grancharova I kept her off the grass but didn’t stable her. She had free-choice movement on a small area with a friend who couldn’t boss her, activated charcoal in a handful of chaff for a few days to absorb toxins but no Bute. She was reasonably comfortable within a few weeks.

horses at phie 28Getting her rock-crunching sound took longer thanks to the wet winter last year in the UK making it difficult to give her enough movement. It was only when I moved her to our new track system in the woods with its mile of grass-free roads and trails that I could see a real improvement in hoof shape and comfort.

It’s lovely to see my horse recovered but now I’m horribly aware of the dangers to others living on green pastures. I’m also conscious of sounding like the voice of doom at the joyous approach of warmer weather!

Then I think of Jaime Jackson’s strong language. Of the number of hooves he has seen with their tell-tale signs of pain and distress. My own voice is mild next to his.

He talks of the misery of keeping a horse in a stable, fields that are founder traps and companies that callously make products that harm. The ‘laminitis industry’ should be reeling from his attack.


Buy, beg or borrow Jackson’s book! Here’s the UK link…Steal it if you have to but make sure you read it. Be aware of the early laminitis warning signs, reduce your horse’s grass consumption and investigate track systems. Your horse will be healthier, sounder and safer.

Get a good trimmer to help you – there are too many equine professionals who will tell you that grass/feed/shoes/chemicals are safe.

Listen to your horse. If he says ouch on tough ground, should you reach for a set of hoof boots or should you question your horse’s diet? Remember Jackson says that inflammation, wherever it is evident, begins in the gut and we are looking for a cure, not a sticking plaster. If you are repeatedly treating thrush and white line disease, do something permanent about it!

A final word from Nick Hill – ‘If you want to keep your horses on grass, it’s very risky, especially if they are overweight coming into the Spring, it goes against nature. Stay clear of monocultured grasses and fertilised fields, try and create more movement, either by building a track system and or riding /exercising every day, not just for 20 minutes but work the fat and excess energy off them.’


Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a writer and journalist who loves horses. Their shoes were removed about 17 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.

‘The author wrote from the heart and with great conviction. It read as a fiction type book, but was also being informative without you realizing it! It gives me hope with my own ‘Carrie’. I totally recommend this book to anyone….my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough!! – Amazon reader.

‘ Required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off’ – Horsemanship Magazine.

‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time’ – Natural Horse Management magazine.

My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘Fantastic read, well researched, authentic voice, and a recognition of the correlation of our best slaves- horses- with the role of women throughout history. If you are into history, barefoot horses, and the feminine coming of age story, then this book is a must read’ – Amazon US reader.

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel is nearing completion. I am being inspired by a famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. So many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet but I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. And have I told you about the Very Bad Princess? The one who rode horses, swore a lot and tried to keep a London park all to herself…not a current-day princess…more soon…xxx



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