On Monday, I went to work on two horses who had not been trimmed since October last year. The mare was doing fine, but the gelding had waaaay long toes and was recovering from an onset of laminitis about a month ago.
You could see the "event" about 1/2" down from his hairline in both fore and hind feet. However, the hind feet, growing as they do, did not have nearly as much damage as the fores. This horse would surely have suffered less if he had met the spring with short toes.
I quizzed the owner about his history. He is in his mid twenties and started suffering from laminitis every spring in his mid teens (as well as at other times, although never in the winter). Last spring (2012) was the first time he avoided laminitis.
When I saw him for the first time in January, 2012, he had the flat feet typical of a laminitic horse, as well as a lot of abscessing going on.
The spring of 2012 brought no laminitis, although when I saw him in June (this owner doesn't call me often), his toes were super-long again. He was doing fine in October, although very long again.
But, uh oh, this spring brought another attack.
What was different? There were no apparent changes which lead to the onset of laminitis. As to the improvement in the spring of 2012, there are two possible causes. One possibility is that the January trim put him in better shape to deal with any laminitis issues. However, given the rate at which this guy grows toe, it's unlikely that a January 6 trim would have provided him with short toes by the beginning of growing season in March.
A more likely reason is as follows. In the late summer of 2011, he acquired a pasture buddy - a young mare. The added movement induced by having a playmate can't be the reason for his doing better, or else he would have stayed sound this spring. But here's what was different ... in their pasture, there's a pond where lots of watercress grows. The gelding had never gone into the pond when he lived alone, but the new mare had no qualms about wading in. The gelding followed her example and discovered all the yummy watercress growing in the pond. It was too late to affect him in the spring of 2011, as the mare didn't arrive until the end of the summer, but he ate watercress in the spring of 2012 and was sound for the first time in years.
However, the two horses ate so much of it last year that not much grew this spring, and the gelding got laminitis again.
After hearing all this, I came home and googled - apparently watercress is a known "phase 1 enzyme inhibitor," and of course matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) is the enzyme which is a major factor in laminitis.
So - aha!?
Although I know that MMP is an enzyme, I don't know whether it is a "phase 1" enzyme. However, it seems like there's a likely connection. My unscientific and haphazard googling suggests that that MMPs are thought to be a factor in certain kinds of cancer. Also that watercress is thought to be a cancer preventative/healer due to its enzyme-inhibiting qualities.
I called the owner back with this information and suggested that she might want to try and husband her watercress by maybe closing off the pond at certain times to allow the watercress to recover so that there's enough growing in the crucial spring months. The owner is now committed to regular trimming for her horse, and I'm booked up to come back again in 6 weeks. I also left her with an old file and showed her how to keep the toes off the ground, as I think any laminitic episode is made so much worse if there's any leveraging on the toes.
How do you feed watercress to your horse? I imagine horses have to eat a whole heck of a lot for it to work, so buying it from somewhere seems out of the question. And who sells bulk watercress anyway? Most pastures don't have ponds. I wonder if there's any kind of substitute.
On that note, I have another client with two horses who are at risk for laminitis. She has ordered some For Love of the Horse MMP Stop formula to keep on hand in case either one of them start to show signs. I'm very happy about this, as for one thing I've been hoping for someone who wants to try this product, and for another thing, it puts my mind at rest somewhat, knowing that there's a potentially effective remedy on hand for these horses if they get laminitis. One of them is a recent rescue. She has had very poor nutrition in the past, and as a result has had sluggish hoof growth. She has flat, shallow feet, with a hairline "ditch" - which makes me think she's had laminitis in the past, but from the appearance of her hoofs, I don't think she's had an episode in the last year. Now that she's getting proper nutrition, her feet might take off growing, and I want to be sure that it's the right kind of growth. The last thing she needs is an acute episode, which may be a concern now that she's on grass and getting fed properly after a couple of years of near starvation.
Here's a link to some watercress info:
I wish I had studied more science in school.