The $15,000 failure…

by Linda Chamberlain

Laminitis – the vets couldn’t cure him, the farriers couldn’t make him comfortable and in the end the poor horse refused to get up. The bill for this sickening failure was $15,000! 

As this crippling condition reaches epidemic proportions, I’m asking whether horse owners are dealing with a ‘laminitis industry’ when they reach out for a cure? Are the professionals who advise making too much money and then failing to make simple but effective changes to diet and lifestyle that will see a lasting cure? Can we really carry on with this betrayal? 

My article is published in the latest Barefoot Horse Magazine. I am reprinting it here in full. Read on…

Our horses’ crippling pain may be feeding a multi-million pound industry.

Laminitis is so widespread and so misunderstood that distressed owners are paying huge bills to treat the symptoms but often failing to find a lasting cure.

They pay a high price for specialist shoes that don’t heal, they fork out for deep bedding, painkillers, supplements, x-rays, veterinary advice and the services of their farrier.

But if they fail to make permanent changes to their horse’s diet and lifestyle there is a real danger of the condition returning – especially when the grass is growing strongly in Spring or Autumn.

After reading the book Laminitis – An Equine Plague of Unconscionable Proportions by Jaime Jackson, I have been investigating the real cost of laminitis, seeking to gauge whether the author is right to label it an ‘industry’ – in other words, the people whose business it is to cure the problem are, in effect, living off its continuance.

You may have heard the same said of the ‘cancer industry’ – the allegations in both cases are harsh and controversial.

With laminitis, however, Jackson is suggesting relatively simple changes that will bring a lasting cure but let’s look at the cost of conventional treatment.

Sometimes the cost is more than financial – sometimes the horse is put to sleep – but others return to work, at least for a while, and some make a lasting recovery. I was prepared to hear about a few large vet bills when I put out a call for information on social media.

I was not expecting to get news of a lamentable failure to cure a horse – at a cost of $15,000.

Staggering, isn’t it?

The horse on the receiving end of all this attention was a sports horse who underwent colic surgery only to be hit by laminitis and rotation of the pedal bone immediately after. He had a month in hospital, countless specialist shoes, drugs and feeds which had little or no impact on this poor equine who deteriorated so much that he refused to get up.

The massive bill included three different farriers, hospital fees and vets visiting on site but everybody had a different approach – none of them worked!

Months later, still wearing shoes, he gained enough strength to be led on walks again. He was on a hay-only diet but full soundness didn’t return. Then his owner read Jackson’s book on laminitis, decided to find a barefoot trimmer and get rid of his shoes. Finally, the horse was healing.

Laminitis is often associated with fat, little ponies who are commonly ‘starved’ on minimal hay if hit by this painful condition. Such a diet, plus box rest, was advised for another horse thought to have diet-related lami. The veterinary bill for his feet alone came to £4000 but there were more problems to come.

His owner reported that starving him and putting him on box rest made him fall apart – literally, as he lost all muscle tone.

She said: ‘At the end of two months my horse had lost all condition, all top line , he looked awful , was still lame and now he didn’t look right behind.’

More veterinary investigations pointed to problems higher up the body.  A full lameness assessment was advised, MRI scans, nerve blocks and a further £1500 bill. Straight bar shoes were replaced with heartbars. Still lame.

The owner began reading about barefoot rehabilitation, left her livery yard, found a field near home and took off his shoes. Six weeks into her programme the vet wanted to do one final nerve block to see if the horse would be sound but there was no pain to block. They are riding again…

The story told to me of a little driving pony shows the repetitive nature of the condition. He first got laminitis in the Autumn of 2015 and the prescribed treatment was box rest, Bute and heartbar shoes. The bill of £2100 was paid on insurance.

No longer insured for laminitis, he went down with another attack this Spring and was once again in heartbars at £100 a time. More x-rays were taken and Bute prescribed.

I visited some farriery web sites to read up on heartbar shoes. The cost seems to be between £100 and £150 for a set which would need to be fitted roughly every four to six weeks. One respected site advised that the horse would need them for life in order to stay sound – so these are a crutch, not a cure. They have an annual bill of between £860 and £1950, depending on cost and frequency.

But how can you prevent laminitis happening in the first place? The secret, as Jackson and others advise, is to be aware that the early signs such as blood traces in the white line of the hoof, persistent thrush, stretched or separating hooves which are mostly caused by the wrong diet. Let’s face it our horses live on farm land. They live on grass that is designed to produce food and milk. So it’s extremely rich. The horse might have a better chance of a healthy life if he shared space with the motorway traffic.

I’m joking and I don’t want you to turn your animals out on the M25…or Route 66!

But I do want you to put yard owners under pressure to adapt their land. Ask, ask and ask again (nicely) to track the fields. If you have your own field I’d like you to buy some electric fencing to make an interesting route for your horses to walk and eat slowly. And I want you to feed some hay all year round but especially in the danger seasons – it’s a much cheaper option than illness. Rely on 100 per cent grass and you are taking a risk with your friend’s life.

Building a track isn’t difficult. It’s fun and your horse will love it too. Simply take out the middle of the field with electric fence and leave your equines to graze the outer track. If you have a grass-sensitive horse you might have to scrape the grass off or get sheep to eat it down. Allow horses to race around it a few times, allow it to become quite bare and make sure there is hay spread around to encourage movement.

Aim for movement and not lush grass and you stand a better chance of avoiding the high cost of lami.

This article was first published in Barefoot Horse Magazine. Here is a link. Thank you to the Hoofing Marvellous group of trimmers for the use of photos.

THE BOOKS

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a writer and journalist who loves horses. My own horses’ 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 UKAmazon 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 campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel has been completed, ready for editing. 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…I’m enjoying the research on this lady! She used to take snuff…xxx

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The Guided Tour

by Linda Chamberlain

It’s lovely to have a newcomer at our home in the woods for barefoot horses, to see the place through a fresh pair of eyes.

jules-12This is Jules who is aged eight. He’s an Arab cross warmblood and he’s had a tough early life. Orphaned as a foal, he later became a dressage horse and may have worked very hard as he is now troubled with arthritis, gut pain and occasional twinges from kissing spine.

He was due some luck in his life and was bought by his present owner, Nicky Cole, about eighteen months ago. Jules found life very difficult at a conventional livery yard because stabling made him miserable. Being a horse with a strong sense of humour, he would scowl if you happened to be passing by his box. I hate to say this of him, but sometimes he would bite. His owner was bitten and bruised a few times but somehow she didn’t give up on him.

He moved to our woods about six weeks ago and has kept me amused with his habit of guarding the gate in case I want to come through it. He likes to lift up and rearrange the feed buckets or carry the head collars to a place where they can’t be found. He hasn’t nipped me, I’m pleased to say, but sometimes he gives me the feeling that I’m well below him in the pecking order. I guess I’ll work it out soon…

jules-13My horse, Sophie, has become very fond of him and the pair of them have taken to cantering up the concrete road as if it’s an Olympic sport. I guess that officially makes Sophie an ex-laminitic – she certainly didn’t attempt any speed when she arrived here in April, gingerly walking up the road or choosing the woodland at the side where the ground is comfortable.

The improvement in Sophie is enormous and she doesn’t look like the same horse who was struck down by laminitis just over a year ago. This home in the woods was inspired by the US trimmer Jaime Jackson and his book Paddock Paradise. Six months of zero grass and maximum movement, being fed ad lib meadow hay and having her feet regularly trimmed have made such a difference to Sophie.

julesSo it will be interesting to see whether this living-out lifestyle will now help Jules. He loves walking around the tracks and through the woods or checking out the field shelter. Here is Jules’s guided tour of his new home…

Starting at the top (left)  – the ground is quite soft here and so far hasn’t got muddy. This is quite a good place for a canter…or a roll…

 

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Don’t be fooled by those leaves! That’s one very long, concrete roadway built for a tank regiment in the war. It’s even got curbstones and now haynets hang from the trees by the side.

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Take a right off the road here and we can circle through the woods. Keep up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-9Through those trees are some great horse rides on Ashdown Forest which I have my eye on. We’ve walked them in hand already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-10And in the distance…right down the end of another road…is one of the hay boxes…I love that there is hay here all the time…and there’s a field shelter WITH NO DOOR! So I can come and go as I please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-6Perhaps all this walking about will improve my back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-3I can choose soft ground or hard but mostly I don’t worry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-4But here is a good spot because they keep some pretty good hay inside this green thing. Organic, meadow hay. Weeded by hand, so they say! Tastes good…come on…there’s more to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-7It takes me quite a while to walk around the whole place. I’ve noticed that sometimes the humans drive in their cars but they can be a lazy species. Sophie and I prefer horse power…I have some pretty fancy moves, once I’ve warmed up, you know…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sophie says it would be great if there were more laminitic horses here so that we can help make them ex-laminitic. I say, don’t all horses want to be wild and free? They don’t have to have something wrong with them to come here. She thinks beating laminitis is a priority but there are other problems and pain is pain. We want to get rid of it whatever has caused it or wherever it is. Find Linda on Facebook if you want to know more…

jules-n-sophieWhich reminds me, I haven’t shown you the chill out space we have…there’s Sophie having a kip in the sun where the ground is nice and soft…

 

 

 

max-phie-4Hey, Sophie! If that’s a stable they’re building, I vote it’s for you and not me…I used to hide in mine, hoping all the humans would go away. Really? Only a hay store? That’s alright then.

 

 

 

max-phie-3OK, we’re nearly done. I love this view. My legs might be a bit shorter than hers but one day I’ll get to the top before Sophie. 

 

 

 

 

max-phie-2Finally, the best sight a horse can have…ANOTHER HORSE. This is Sophie who reckons movement can be the greatest healer. She says, it worked for her. Did I mention that I have a lot of people helping me? A specialist trimmer called Lauren Hetherington, a physiotherapist and my own healer called Elaine. Then there’s Nicky, of course, and Linda who ignores me every time she walks through the gate. She doesn’t look so worried any more which is a bit of a shame. It was fun while it lasted. Fancy a run, Sophie? 

 

IN OTHER NEWS    IN OTHER NEWS     IN OTHER NEWS     IN OTHER NEWS

holistic-hound-and-horse-expoWhat a great success the Holistic Hound and Horse Expo was. A full day of talks and demonstrations at a fabulous new venue Merrist Wood, near Guildford. Two hundred people turned up – a sure sign that more and more people are seeking a less traditional approach to caring for their animals. I sold and signed lots of books so it was lovely to be an author again for the day rather than horse servant!

horsemanship-magHorsemanship Magazine is looking for a new editor. Lorraine Stanton is stepping down after many years at the helm having produced 100 issues of this brilliant magazine. Interested in the post – contact the editor on info@horsemanshipmagazine.co.uk.

ABOUT ME – BOOK NEWS

The new book is taking shape. First draft nearly finished! A historical horsey novel…

The first two are available on Amazon UK and US. Here they are…just click on the highlighted links…

BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet (UK link) – ‘What a wonderful story, so beautifully written, so good in fact I have read it twice (so far) I can imagine this as movie as I felt I was there beside Bracy throughout the whole book, it captures a feeling inside ones’ being of wanting to change the world for the better.. Loved it… Loved it!’ Amazon reader.  Amazon US link here.

 

 

A Barefoot Journey (UK link) – ‘I LOVED this. It was sat waiting for me when I got home from work, and I Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)finished reading it that night! I couldn’t put it down.’ Amazon reader. Amazon US link here.

 

Life after Laminitis…

by Linda Chamberlain

I’m telling you this with a great sense of shame. A few weeks ago my horse became lame on all four feet – she was struck down with laminitis, a condition that can kill. 

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It’s preventable which explains my feelings of remorse but I’m sharing Sophie’s story because her recovery was speedy and unconventional.

I had some help and advice from some amazing professionals and thanks to them my mare was spared the traditional ‘cure’ for laminitis – namely metal shoes, a daily dose of anti-inflammatory Bute and confinement in a stable for weeks, possibly months with the prospect of a very uncertain outcome.  Such treatment was given to a friend’s horse recently and the thought horrified me. I didn’t want it to be Sophie’s fate but in view of the seriousness of her lameness I needed some help.

Sophie is a chestnut thoroughbred who has been barefoot all her life. She is as fit as a greyhound, looks just as lean and is kept in a small herd on a grass track system  with no stabling – this means she has minimal grass, topped up with hay, and moves an awful lot.  The horsey readers among you will be asking how on earth such a horse could get lami. I rode her one Sunday, a few days later my three horses broke down some electric fencing and spent hours partying on the lush grass that I was saving for winter when the sugar content is lower.

Early next morning I found the guilty threesome up to their knees in green stuff but Sophie was barely able to walk.

She followed the others onto the yard and was so crippled that I was amazed there were no signs of injury; no evidence of attack from a wild animal. Her feet were hot and her digital pulses were raised so slowly realisation and fear sank in. Laminitis?

It’s an inflammation that can cause the hoof wall to separate from the internal structures. It is extremely painful for the horse but there was little visible evidence of the problem from an examination of Sophie’s bare hooves which were in good shape and regularly trimmed. It’s a condition that is more commonly associated with fat, little ponies who have been allowed too much rich grass. Such a high-sugar diet produces an overload of toxins which play havoc with the feet.

I could see months of TLC ahead of me. Sophie had only come to me in February; we had been having so much fun…getting on so well. And now there was the very real threat that she wouldn’t get better.Linda on Sophie

Previous experience with lami meant I knew enough to keep her off all grass and substitute with hay. She was shut onto our massive yard and field shelter with one other horse who couldn’t boss her around. The field shelter had the benefit of rubber mats to give her some comfort and they had plenty of room to move about.

I contacted my fellow admins on the Barefoot Horse Owners Group, warning them that I might be away from my desk for a while and explaining why. I hadn’t been seeking help but it was lovely to get some.

Helen Jacks-Hewitt, a McTimoney Animal Practitioner, reminded me that even lean horses can get lami – some can be grass intolerant and Sophie’s symptoms sounded similar.

Georgie Harrison, barefoot trimmer, warned – get her off all the green stuff. It was already done.

Debbie Carley, who runs Thunderbrook Feeds, said – Probably toxin overload in gut from flush of bad bacteria feeding off the sudden excess of richer grass. Try Equicarb to absorb the toxins then Gut Restore to help settle the guts back down. Keep on hay and no grass. Equicarb and Gut Restore! I had them in my store cupboard. Brilliant.

Nick Hill, natural hoof care practitioner, said two words – contact Ralitsa.

Ralitsa Grancharova is an online holistic vet from Bulgaria who I had written about in an earlier blog. There’s a link in the side column under popular blogs. I knew her views on the box rest/shoes scenario and knew she might have an alternative answer that wouldn’t go against the roaming-free-on-their-own-feet lifestyle my horses were used to. I got in touch. I sent her Sophie’s history, her symptoms, photos of hooves and a short film. Her diagnosis was laminitis.

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After 2 weeks of following her advice (weeks! not months) Sophie was walking soundly on the rubber matting in the field shelter and was pretty comfortable on the unforgiving, stony yard. She was happy enough for us to keep up with regular hoof trims. I couldn’t believe it. After another week it was almost impossible to see any lameness beyond the occasional short stride. She was back on part of their track which had been carefully mashed and eaten down, trotting and dancing with her friends like a proper thoroughbred.

The treatment was simple. No grass. No Bute. No confinement.

Keep her moving – but only by her own choice. Let her eat hay but give no sugary treats or grain feeds. Hose her feet with cold water, wrap her hooves or put on hoof boots in the early, painful stages. Feed activated charcoal to absorb the toxins in the gut. I used Equicarb from Thunderbrooks. After 3 weeks I was asking Ralitsa whether I should start walking Sophie in hand or if she could go back on the grass track. It was too soon for any grass and walking should only be if she’s comfortable. Stop if it isn’t.

Sophie is nearly better. I know her hooves have been weakened and I know to be careful. The electric fencing is being replaced by permanent fencing and my fingers are crossed that we don’t have too much rain while they are confined to a small turnout area. Soon we will be going for walks in hand on ground that isn’t going to cause her discomfort.

Ralitsa’s treatment plan is miles away from the conventional one but she can explain better than I.

‘In my experience conventional treatment of laminitis in horses (box rest and shoes) does not bring the desired recovery as fast as we could hope for. During the time I practised in Germany, laminitic horses were treated in exactly the same way – they were put on box rest, given Bute and shod. These horses would spend up to 3 months in the clinic under these conditions. They would get better for a short while and would then get worse. The vicious cycle would continue until the owner decided to have the horse put down or until the animal was well enough to go home. Not long after some of these horses would return to the clinic with another bout of laminitis. I became convinced that laminitis was incurable. These veterinary professionals were doing everything in their power and they still could only save a few horses from the devastating disease. And the more I looked into the matter myself, the more I was certain that there was no other way and the treatment for laminitis was not yet discovered.

 ‘But this all changed. When I organised one of Nick Hill’s visits to Bulgaria (Nick Hill is a distinguished natural horse care practitioner, who helps horses from all over the world recover from laminitis), he made me see things differently. It was so easy, I wondered why I hadn’t seen it myself. One of the most common causes for laminitis is carbohydrate overload. I won’t go into the specifics of how laminitis actually develops, as there is enough information on the matter available.

 ‘But as any veterinary surgeon would agree, eliminating the cause for the disease is the best way to treat it. So does that work for laminitis? If the cause is indeed the most common one – carbohydrate overload (through grass, grains, fruit, molasses and others), a change in diet is essential. Allow the horse to only eat hay. Supply water and salt lick. Anything else could continue to bring the digestive tract out of equilibrium which is why unless you are certain the particular supplement you want to feed is carbohydrate free (or unflavoured), you should not include it in the horse’s diet at this stage.

 ‘If your horse is shod, take the shoes off. If you are wondering whether to have your horse shod or not because of acute laminitis, then there is a few things you need to consider. Laminitis is the inflammation of the sensitive laminae that make up the connection between the hoof wall and the hoof’s internal structures. Allowing the hoof to function physiologically (barefoot) allows the blood supply to reach the inflamed laminae.

 ‘Shoes don’t allow the hoof to function physiologically. They restrict blood supply to the hoof, as they do not allow for physiological movement of the soft tissues inside the hoof capsule. As with any inflamed tissue, blood supply is essential to healing.

 ‘This is another reason why movement is recommended for treating laminitis. Movement stimulates blood supply to the hoof. But this is not the only reason why I would recommend it for recovering from laminitis. Digestion in horses is connected to movement. One of the causes for colic in horses is lack of movement and turn out. As laminitis is also so deeply entwined with the digestive tract, it makes even more sense to allow a laminitic horse to move. Of course movement under the pain killing effect of some drugs most often used in the treatment of laminitis is not recommended. But after the initial stages of laminitis the horse should be allowed to recover out of the stable. With the appropriate dietary changes in place, most horses get well enough to walk on their own and at this stage the need for NSAIDs should be carefully weighed.

 ‘The recovery period for laminitis is different and depends on the individual horse. But in my experience the horses get better much quicker when they are on a hay-only diet (without supplements or treats) and are allowed to move freely. Using boots instead of shoes allows the hooves to function physiologically and could also help alleviate the pain.’

Thanks to everyone who follows and shares this blog – it goes around the world! And keep in touch by clicking the follow button or leave me some feed back. If you’ve had a brush with laminitis or a story to tell, I’d love to hear from you…

Sophie’s laminitis has flared up again (November) – I might have introduced a bit of feed too early. Will keep you updated once I have a clearer picture.

FURTHER UPDATE – I have written other posts about our progress but need to put something here too. Yes, I was advised to cut out all feed once again but I was being thwarted by the weather. The winter of 2015/16 was extremely wet and the horses were unable to go on any of the fields or tracks. Sophie couldn’t cope with the grass and the mud eventually became too much for the others. For months they were confined to the yard and a short, stony track towards the house. It’s common for laminitics to abscess after an episode and Sophie did so on all four feet in January 2016. The horses coped with the situation but my chestnut TB didn’t behave calmly enough to go for walks in hand. We had to wait – but then I came up with a plan! We moved them to another home and set up a massive track system in some woods with almost zero grass. Another year on and my horses are roaming over varied terrain and about a mile of tracks. Sophie is sound and we are riding again.

BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS      BOOK NEWS     BOOK NEWS

A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book, which has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society, sold out at the prestigious international show at Hickstead! Still available on Amazon though…

Keep in touch by following this blog or finding me on Facebook.