Karen and Cassie
Karen joined the CARE study in August 2014 and one of the horses she was particularly interested in monitoring was her mare, Cassie. Cassie is a 17 year old Welsh Section D and stands at 14.3hh. She has a previous history of laminitis and Karen wanted to do all she could to find out more about the disease and how to help Cassie, and other horses, avoid it in the future. Karen was also keen to help Cassie shed extra weight, especially with findings that suggest obesity is associated with higher laminitis risk.
“Cassie has battled the bulge for many years despite limited to no grass, soaked hay, strict diets; she literally put weight on breathing fresh air. She has had laminitis a few times and I knew with her weight this was always a time bomb waiting to go off. She weighed in at a massive 557 kg when we joined CARE – she should ideally be less than 500 kg given her size and breed.”
In a bid to help her monitor Cassie’s weight and condition, Karen took advantage of the unique ‘Weight Tracker’ available to all CARE study members. Along with helping the CARE team collect health and management data, CARE members are encouraged to regularly take simple body measurements and condition scores and enter them into the online Weight Tracker form. Overall body weight of the horse is then estimated using the heart girth and body length measurements. The data is also plotted on a graph over time, showing trends in weight loss, maintenance or gain.
“Taking her measurements and entering them into the Weight Tracker I found a bit depressing initially – I wanted the graph to go down not up! This motivated me to make changes to Cassie’s management and really made me focus on helping her achieve a healthier weight. I decided to take a new approach, instead of leaving her out for a few hours on a bare patch I turned her out initially in a small grassed area, next to a young energetic pony, and aimed to use the autumn and winter months to try to get the weight loss.”
“Her measurements for the Weight Tracker began to improve! As she improved, I opened up the pen and put the ponies in together. Watching them galloping about, playing and competing for the limited grass was wonderful for all of us. As the weather gradually declined I opted not to rug but make her use her resources to keep warm, she was out from 7am to 4pm on grass and still dropping weight.”
With Karen’s determination and the help of the Weight Tracker, Cassie has lost over 60 kg since joining the CARE study. She has gone from an average body condition score of 4.25 at her heaviest (averaged over the neck and shoulder, middle and bottom) to an average score of 2.5!
“I found myself in competition with the Weight Tracker. I was determined to get Cassie under 500 kg by the end of winter, wanting her to come out of winter lean for spring. I could visibly see the change in her body shape, doing the body condition scoring was becoming a pleasure rather than a struggle. It was wonderful to be able to move her crest, run your hand down her neck and feel the shoulder, as well as see it. I could have a beautiful cup to my hand over her spine, see and feel her ribs (I hadn’t seen the ribs for a very long time), feel her pelvis and finally have a beautiful shaped bottom rather than the great bulge of fat on her quarters. Her udders finally lost the entire bulge, which from a health perspective meant she was not getting as sore between her teats as the fat was gone.”
Karen is proud of Cassie’s progress. She’s been getting a lot of compliments and even her farrier and vet are impressed with her progress and Karen’s determination. “I finally feel that not only is Cassie much healthier, but using the Weight Tracker and updating her questionnaire regularly have really focused me to help Cassie. She is now a pony that is out all daylight hours having some grass, but more importantly being a pony. She looks younger, is gradually getting fitter and is actually a much nicer person. I am now proud of her weight at 496 kg - a figure I never thought I would see and it is shocking when you relate her overall weight loss to more than 3 sacks of horse feed!”
“I really think taking part in the CARE study is a must for all owners! Seeing your horses and ponies daily, you do not always see the changes – but being encouraged monthly to do updates makes you more focused and hands on, and you realise when weight is going on or coming off. The study is also important to raise awareness about laminitis which is sadly still too common.”
Robyn and Misty, Nottinghamshire
"Misty is a typical cheeky pony, who loves his food and does not act his 22 years of age. Misty has suffered from very severe laminitis in the past, to the point where movement was very limited and euthanasia seemed like the only option. He was still very bright in himself and through very careful management and patience Misty was able to make a full recovery to complete soundness – enabling him to get out and about doing what he loves best, jumping! An impressive feat considering that I was told he would never be able to be ridden again if kept alive.
I signed up to the study to try to use Misty’s experience to help others and as a way of tracking his management and weight. It’s easy to get into a fixed routine and not notice the subtle changes that could bring on laminitis and with the CARE study you can really keep an eye on it.
It has helped me to track Misty’s weight, as this was the main contributory factor to his episodes, and more accurately than just by eye. Every horse can be susceptible to laminitis, no matter what shape, size or age and it is important to educate owners about the condition. Taking part in this study will not only encourage owners to manage their horses more carefully and closely monitor bodyweight, but will hopefully educate more people about this painful and debilitating disease."
Gail and Shamrock, Perthshire
“I think laminitis is something that every owner should be concerned about. The fact that it can strike any horse, at any age, at any time means that the more we can try and minimise the risks, the better.
The study encourages me to keep a close eye on Shamrock’s condition. It’s very easy when you have a retired pony in a field and are seeing them twice a day to not be aware of small changes in their health. Measuring him and looking at the results carefully makes me more aware of his weight and how well he’s maintaining his condition. Just because your horse has never had laminitis, it doesn’t mean it won’t ever get it.
If you’ve got a horse, please get involved. It’s very straightforward, it helps you look after your horses and it benefits the wider community of horse owners, including yourself. The sad thing is that however well you think you’re looking after your horse, it can still get laminitis.”
Dorothy, Solo and Tango, Somerset
"I am an animal Chiropractor and riding instructor. I have two horses, Solo who is a grey 16yo Anglo Arab, and Tango, who is a chestnut 9yo Arab x American Saddlebred. Though neither of my horses are or have been laminitic, I have an interest in laminitis and its associated problems as many of my clients’ horses and ponies are laminitic and I am very interested in the management of these animals. I am very pleased to be a part of the CARE study, and hope that the way we manage our horses is of interest.
I have found it fascinating to monitor their weight and so on, on a monthly basis and have been somewhat surprised to find that both horses have pretty much remained the same weight over the last year and a bit, regardless of season, apart from dropping a little weight in February and March. I am hoping that they do drop some weight again this year as they’ve all come through this very mild winter far too well so far!
Laminitis is a terrible disease and I think that the study is important so that as much information as possible can be collected and collated about the factors involved in its aetiology and management.
Every detail of the management of as many horses as possible, both with and without laminitis, is helpful to sort out what are the greatest dangers. So it is important that horse owners in all parts of the country and following all methods of horse management participate in the study. The results of the study should help all horse owners, in the long term, to prevent their precious horses and ponies from developing this condition."
Aberystwyth University and Lluest 4Sox
"Lluest 4Sox is owned by Aberystwyth University and is a firm favourite amongst staff and students. Sox is a 15.2 hh Welsh cob, who is certainly a good doo-er, but has never had laminitis since he has been with us.
We first heard about the CARE Study on Twitter and were keen to encourage students to be involved in any opportunity for original scientific research. Laminitis is a topic close to our research hearts, as well as being horse owners and riders ourselves who understand the severity of the disease. The CARE study was therefore something we understand to be very important for learning more about the risk factors associated with developing laminitis, the disease epidemiology/demographics and the horse-owning public’s perception of it. It’s also a great way of getting students involved in real-life research, so they can add this to their skills set they gain from studying at Aberystwyth University.
As far as I’m aware, there has never been a large-scale study of this type in the UK so it’s commendable that the AHT have taken on this study, which is certainly a huge undertaking. But without the scientists co-ordinating it and participants to provide the data, there would be no advancement of our knowledge.
I would encourage everyone to sign up to the study to maximise the impact of the results. I’m sure equine science or studies students see the benefit of being involved in such a study for their own experience, with a potential very real impact. Ultimately, as member of the equine community, we will all gain from the knowledge acquired from this research too."