LAMINITIS has reared its head during lockdown, prompting a warning that owners should beware of their horses getting fat.

With the spring flush of new grass, and owners being advised not to ride – to reduce demands on the NHS – horses are increasingly at risk of gaining too much weight, which can have serious health consequences.

"It is the worst time of year for horses to be having their exercise reduced," said Lucy Grieve of the British Equine Veterinary Association. "We have spring grass coming through which naturally has more sugar and calories.

"Horses don’t do well with weight gain at all," she said. "Evolution has not given them good design for coping with that. They can get insulin issues similar to human diabetes, which leads to a serious issue called laminitis which can cause severe pain and issues in their feet and can end up being permanently crippling or leading to them being put to sleep."

For owners who are concerned about monitoring their horse's weight, she suggested different techniques including strip grazing, where horses are turned out in a paddock and an electric fence is used to limit the amount of grass they can access, and wearing a grazing muzzle, which reduces the amount of grass they can take in. Other ideas include enrichment grazing, which involves providing safe toys for horses to play with, encouraging them to be active in the field, or even different obstacles to make their grazing experience more interactive and encourage movement.

World Horse Welfare has also launched an updated guide to laminitis, its causes, prevention and treatment, and are likewise urging owners to monitor their horse and ponies weight regularly.

Head of UK Support at World Horse Welfare, Sam Chubbock, said: “Making sure your horse or pony is the right weight is really important when it comes to preventing laminitis – as is avoiding unintentional weight gain. It can be really difficult to notice our horses gaining weight when we see them every day, which is why regular weight monitoring and fat scoring are so important. Although equine weight tapes aren’t 100% accurate as a means of weighing your horse, if you use one regularly it will tell you if your horse is gaining or losing weight – and allow you to adjust his or her management accordingly,” he suggested.

Laminitis is common, with about one in 10 horses in any year experiencing a bout, and having suffered from it once, a horse is more likely to suffer from it again and will need careful ongoing management.

Common signs of laminitis include strong digital pulses felt at the back of the fetlock, reluctance to walk forward, difficulty making a tight turn, excessive heat in the feet, shifting weight from foot to foot when at rest and lameness, stiffness or a short, stilted or pottery walk especially on hard ground, but often the early signs of onset of a bout of laminitis can be difficult to spot.

Owners who suspect their horse has laminitis are advised to speak to their vet. To access the updated guidance on laminitis, visit