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My journey with Abbey & other horsey bits 'n' bobs

Battling with weight and laminitis

My last post was so positive and rightly so. We had a great spring, summer and autumn. From hacking with friends to getting out an doing many dressage tests, we had a lot of fun. And then came winter…

…I hate winter. So many equestrians seem to find unfaltering levels of motivation to maintain fitness regimes and competition entrees. I really struggle. So this year I decided to take the pressure off. Abbey could have a holiday and I could give in (at least in part) to my urge to hibernate.

I think that may have been a poor decision.

The last few months

I started winding down Abbey’s workload October time. By December we were doing the bare minimum to get to the odd dressage competition. (We’d just joined forces with some other liveries to do British Dressage’s Team Quest).

Middle of the month I noticed Abbey was a little pottery going over the even cobbles on the year and didn’t “feel right” on a hack. Given what happened last year I took immediate action.

I kept her in on box rest. Cut the balancer from her feed (it contained a small amount of molasses) and starting using later cut hay. The hay had been cut and baled using settings traditionally applied to straw…the result is perfect for a native, the hay is long and chewy with low nutritional value.

After 48 hours, all heat had gone from her feet and there were no signs of being pottery (even in trot on the cobbles). She had 3 days in before being re-introduced to turn out.

Interestingly both Abbey’s EP and I observed a drastic change in her body shape. She’s always had a bit of a tummy that hung low. Now I’m wondering whether she been consistently bloated…eek.

Also noticed that after the initial heat her feet went cold. Stone cold and all the time. They say the temperatures of horses feet fluctuate. It made me wonder…if the little heat I’ve been accepting as ‘normal’, isn’t actually ‘normal’ for Abbey but an indicator that she’s laminitic.

With the Christmas craziness (and my hatred of winter) getting into full swing setting in I decided to give Abbey some more time off and keep her on hay. Her paddock is small and by this point, predominantly mud so I thought she wasn’t getting much grass.

I was strip grazing and increasing the amount I was moving it bit-by-bit (while reducing the hay she was getting in the field). We got up to about 1ft along a 12ft length before I noticed she looked a little pottery again.

Abbey was so cross about being on box rest that I was reluctant to do it again. Instead I chose to stop moving the fence and up the hay ration. That seemed to do the trick for a short while.

So a couple of weeks ago I brought the Ab Fab back into work. As she was burning extra calories, I thought it would be ok to start moving the fence again….

….I was wrong. Monday we go for a hack and I notice she’s uncomfortable again. I stopped moving the fence and she seemed to be improving…until Friday when I noticed she was taking more care across the cobbles than is “standard” for her.

So I rang the vet. Despite having read lots of material on the subject from many reputable sources including The Laminitis Trust, I’ve not been able to effectively manage this on my own and I needed help.

Veterinary advice

She didn’t mince her words. She strongly suspects that Abbey has EMS (a test will confirm). Her advice:

  1. Remove from grass immediately
  2. Restrict movement immediately – the pedal bone will be vulnerable for at least a week after the last symptom. When the laminae is inflamed, the ‘hooks’ that latch onto the pedal are weakened. The ligaments and tendons in the foot pull on the pedal bone so when the ‘hooks’ are weakened it increases the risk of rotation. It takes up to a week after any inflammation for the structures to properly reattach.
  3. A week after all symptoms have passed start a strict exercise programme. Working towards proper hard work 3-4 times/week – get her heart pumping, get her to work up a sweat. Eventually it is exercise that will reverse the insulin resistance and enable her to go out.

Diet and body score

One of the most important aspects of managing a pony with laminitis is diet. Due to Abbey’s ability to put on weight, she’s never had a ‘bad’ diet. Before this latest episode she was having:

  • Turnout – approx 8 hours/day on a restricted paddock
  • Hay – 1 haynet in the field, 2 at night
  • Hard feed – handful of Thunderbrook’s chaff, Spillers Light and Lean, Magic and some table salt.

Only the Spillers Light and Lean contained molasses, even then it was only a relative small amount. Still…too much for her.

I’d read about the ’emergency diet’ before Abbey’s latest episode and had thought I’d found a good compromise. What changed my mind was The Blue Cross’ doc ‘fat horse thin’.

I’d put Abbey at a body score of 3.5. She’s only fat deposits behind her shoulders and you can feel her ribs. I thought this was ‘ok’. Sure I’d like her to be at a 3 but she’s a native and there’s plenty of ponies lot fatter than Abbey that are alright.

Wrong. With repeated episodes of laminitis and a body score of 3.5 she’s in the ‘red danger zone’ and given her history I’m aiming for a body score of 2.5.

This means no access to grass. Reducing her food intake to no more than 1.5% of her current weight (approx 400kg) = no more than 6kg of soaked hay and chaff.

I weighed the nets I had been given Abbey. They were 3-3.5kg. And she was having 3…that’s 9-10.5kg of not-soaked hay!!! Eeek!!

Going forward

She’s on box rest until further notice. Abbey’s done 48 hours so far and isn’t happy about it one bit.

Her hay is being soaked and as of today Abbey’s ration has been drastically reduced. This has made her even more cross and obviously hungry. Very hungry. She devoured her haynet…literally devoured it.

I’m wondering whether I’ve cut down too much too quickly. All the research says to do this and I’ve not gone as far as the Blue Cross suggests at 1.5% body weight rather than 1.3%.

Stress can cause laminitis so there’s a fine line…I also don’t want her ulcers to return but then she’s getting 2 nets during the day and 2 at night so she should be getting enough at regular intervals to line her digestive tract.

Abbey is also on straw atm. I’m being careful not to add too much clean bedding as I know she eats it. Again many sources suggest moving to a shavings bed. But I’m reluctant. I’ve always taken the view that straw is less nutritious than hay and if she’s really hungry and needs to line her stomach then it’s better to let her.

And she’s already minus the grass portion and judging by the number of poos in her stable overnight (was 8, now 4), she was getting significantly more grass than I had realised!

It’s very hard to decide what’s ‘best’ for her. Is it better for her to loose weight more slowly but potentially have laminitis for longer. Or is it better to suffer in the short term knowing that she’s more likely to get return to more ‘normal’ management more quickly. What would you do?!

On the plus side, I noticed today that the sockets above her eyes are no longer filled. This is another ‘it’s normal for her’ type things that I’ve ignored for too long.

Why am I telling you of all the signs I’ve willfully ignored? Putting my silly mistakes on the net for all to see (and critique)? Because I’m sure I’m not the only one…and if one owner sees this and decides to take action before their pony has an episode and has to endure box rest.

Abbey’s sound and we’re back in action!

We never got to the bottom of Abbey’s lameness back in January. The heat in her front foot, became heat that came and went in both which lead me to wonder whether it was laminitis.

Nothing about treating Abbey as having laminitis would have done her harm. She was overweight, a weightloss programme was overdue anyway.

Continue reading “Abbey’s sound and we’re back in action!”

Ut oh! Abbey’s got an abscess brewing

Typically it’s the day when the physio comes that Abbey has a hot hoof.

Must admit it wasn’t me that spotted it. The yard brought Abbey in and picked out her feet this morning. I’d been running a little late so just flicked a brush over her before the physio arrived.

To cut a long story short the physio recoiled when she touched her near fore. She was right, it was hot to the touch.

First thought was laminitis. Abbey’s primed for it…despite my best efforts she is overweight and her grazing isn’t ideal. I’ve been walking the tightrope between ensuring she’s enough forage to prevent excess stomach acid causing ulcers and keeping her weight down. I’m exercising her as much as I can. Her field doesn’t contain much grass but it’s short and therefore stressed meaning it’ll produce more sugar. As we’re now in a cold snap, the grass will be producing even more sugar as an antifreeze. Altogether…it is a recipe for laminitis.

Continue reading “Ut oh! Abbey’s got an abscess brewing”

First impressions of the Equilab app

I’ve had the Equilab app for just over a week and used it a couple of times to track our rides. I’d like to use it to see how Abbey’s fitness is improving over the coming season. Previously I have used Map My Run…which did the job….kinda.

Equilab logo
The Equilab app is available to download for free from your app store.

The first time that I’d used a new app we had a rather exciting hack round the ‘big block’ as it is known on the yard.

Continue reading “First impressions of the Equilab app”

Happy New Year!

It’s been over a month since my last post which shows just how busy the holiday season has been. I hope yours has been as filled with fun, family and friends as mine.

That last post talked about how I was going to bring Abbey back into work after a short break, getting her back up to fitness so that we could continue our journey with dressage and jumping.

It hasn’t quite happened that way, we’ve not been as focused and dedicated as perhaps we should. Instead we’ve been big kids, having fun and not worrying too much as ‘progress’.

Instead we’ve enjoyed winter wobbles around the fields. In England it’s not been a winter wonderland, more of a muddy sploshy swamp.

As we approached the Christmas break our hacks took to the roads and became increasingly festive.

Every cloud has a silver lining; the rain did provide some cross country water opportunities.

Abbey enjoyed some time with her fieldmate’s owner who hacked her, schooled her and even popped her over a fence or two.


We squeezed in a little schooling but it was all very low key, The main focus was to focus on stretching over her topline and using that back end.

Today we welcomed the New Year with interval training. We shouldn’t really be cantering at this point but, hey, it’s still the holidays and there’s nothing quite like a good canter in an open space to blow the cobwebs (self induced with alcohol!) away!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the holidays as much as I have. Here’s to a fabulous 2019!

Returning to work after a mini-break

There are many books and articles about bringing your horse back into work after months off due to illness, injury or a change of circumstances. They talk about building fitness slowly, building muscle and aerobic fitness. But what about a short holiday? How fit is a horse after a week or two off? And how quickly can you return to full work?

Continue reading “Returning to work after a mini-break”

Jumping on an angle

Abbey and I haven’t done much jumping on an angle. Well, not on purpose anyway!

Today’s lesson had Abbey and I tackling two fences set on a steep angle.

My RI kept the fences low so if we screwed it up Abbey could trot over them without much effort and without scaring herself.

Like dressage, it’s a step by step approach. My RI makes sure that we’re confident at each level before moving onto the next.

Our first attempt was in trot and was good. Abbey was, I must admit, slightly confused about where we were going, but responded to my aids and kept going.

This is a huge change from our first year of jumping which involved lots of stops whenever the question (or the look of a fence changed).

By the end we were popping over the two jumps confidently with only one stride between them.

Why I choose an equine podiatrist (rather than a farrier)

I first learnt about about barefoot when my first horse, Harley was diagnosed with multiple issues in his feet (navicular).

Extensive research into his issues had brought up Rockley Farm – a rehabilitation centre that has successfully helped horses with similar issues return to sound, useful lives.

Continue reading “Why I choose an equine podiatrist (rather than a farrier)”

A wandering left seat bone

It’s been a while since I last posted because my time has temporarily reallocated to demolishing one kitchen and building a new one (boring!).

Abbey has been ticking over. The most exciting things have been our lessons with Sam. And there have been two since my last post.

In the first one we worked on keeping Abbey up and together in trot. He did this by establishing the trot on a circle – going forward and then asking her to slow the pace but keep the power – and then taking it large. We both tend to relax on the long sides of the school and as a result Abbey’s hind legs begin to trail, she starts to go flat and hollow and by the end of the 2nd long-side of the arena, other lovely outline has completely unravelled!

Sam also introduced us to renver in this lesson. It always amazes me how quickly Abbey gets the hang of new exercises, when I ask correctly.  The tricky bit is getting me to co-ordinate my body to do the asking.

Yesterday we worked solely on me with a biomechanics lesson.  As we were doing our warm up, Abbey was doing her usual drifting through the left shoulder. Sam asked ‘where is your left seat bone?’.  It was a hard question to answer. I knew where I thought my right one was but my left appeared to be absent.

Continue reading “A wandering left seat bone”

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