Kathleen and Joe, a Missouri Foxtrotter, live in Jackson, Mo. Kathleen got Joe in March 2005. At that time, he was a ”good” weight, just out of shape. He had brittle feet and a large, swollen sheath. As the pasture grasses started coming in, Joe began packing on the pounds, as did all the other horses.
By July, however, he was not only fat, he was getting ouchy when traveling over gravel. The top picture is of Joe about three weeks before a full-blown laminitis episode. It was impossible to really get him moving when being ridden, although no one suspected foot pain, a common scenario. Looking back, Kathleen said, ”His face in that first picture says it all.”
Kathleen now knows he had red flags of insulin resistance. ”Around here,” she said, ”we recognized 'pasture founder’ but not the cause.” In her area, the horsemen knew spring and fall grass were worries, but the reason was believed to be high protein, which is incorrect (see sidebar on myths).
”I only knew one person who owned a grazing muzzle, and I thought that was a very odd contraption,” said Kathleen. ”If your horse did founder, the rule was two flakes of hay a day until he gets over it, then, it’s back to pasture and put them up during the day in the spring and fall.”
By midsummer, Joe’s pasture mate was bigger than he was, despite the fact they were having a drought and the grass was so dry it crunched under foot. When the field began to look bare, the horses, still very fat, were moved to one that had more abundant, albeit still very dry, grass. Within 48 hours, Joe’s pasture mate had foundered.
Since the cause obviously couldn’t be the grass, Joe’s pasture mate’s obesity was blamed, and the horse was put into dry lot with only two flakes of hay to eat each day. He did lose weight, but he remained cresty, depressed and lethargic. His coat and skin health was poor. Despite having the lost weight, the horse had several more episodes of laminitis when he was put back onto the ”poor-quality” pasture. This was again treated by another few days in the dry lot, then back out again to repeat the cycle.
”Joe was gigantic by October,” said Kathleen. She put him on a dry lot with nothing to eat in the daytime and turned him out at night. She also put him on a magnesium supplement, as she read this might help. Joe did lose some weight and his crest diminished somewhat, but he was still far from a normal body condition and weight.
After the first hard freeze in December, Kathleen believed the grass was now completely safe, so Joe was turned out on pasture again. Within 48 hours, Joe had full-blown laminitis.
Kathleen had read some articles on equine insulin resistance and knew Joe fit the profile of an insulin-resistant horse. She had started the magnesium, but hesitated on the full program. ”It was so counter to everything I had ever been told about horses. Everyone I talked to was skeptical of the program. The concept of hay analysis and diet balancing was so foreign. How do you do that' Where do you buy minerals' How can you find out what they need'
”That’s actually biggest obstacle there is. You can read all about grass, insulin resistance and what you should and should not do, but until someone says, 'Do this, and send this HERE, buy this and get it HERE,’ it is simply too overwhelming, especially when your horse is down and you’re beating yourself over the head with a 2 x 4.”
Kathleen then remembered some articles a friend had sent on insulin resistance and a Yahoo group that was very knowledgeable (http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/EquineCushings/). ”That’s what saved Joe. I give all the credit to the folks on the list. I got him up on Styrofoam hoof pads, duct-taped to the bottom of his feet, stopped the bute, started soaking hay and feeding him the proper amount. In 48 hours, he was walking around like nothing happened.”
It took about a month to get her hay analyzed and get the correct minerals in place. Since Joe’s coffin bone had not rotated, he began to improve quickly once the real cause of his problems, insulin resistance, was addressed. ”In April, Joe lost all but the shoulder fat pads. The crest and orbital fat was gone, his coat was shiny. He looked good, even in his winter coat. I started driving him in March and noticed that he was moving better than he ever had since I owned him. He was brighter, more alert, as if he was years younger.”
Joe remains on an insulin-resistance diet, and Kathleen says most of her riding friends think he’s too thin, but she just smiles and nods. The look on his face in the after picture (bottom photo, page 15) says it all.
Kathleen had a lot to overcome to move forward with the insulin-resistance program. ”My vet, stubborn at first, didn’t appreciate the program or my persistence, and remained stubborn. I now have a new vet who passes out my flyer to his clients with insulin resistance, trying to get them on the program. Most just glaze over, but when people call, my husband or I will run out with the hay corer, show them how to fill out the analysis package, tell them where to buy cubes and beet pulp, explain why the 'shot-gun mineral’ approach doesn’t work.” (See also December 2006 issue for more information on insulin resistance.)