Insulin Resistance

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Insulin Resistance = Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Let’s talk about Insulin, a major player in these conditions.

What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that is released into the bloodstream by the pancreas whenever blood sugar (glucose) levels begin to rise. Glucose is often the product of sugar and starch digestion in the small intestine (foregut) in the horse.


What does Insulin do?

Put simply, when your horse eats something with starch like oats the enzymes breakdown the large starch molecules into small glucose pieces.

This glucose then leaves the small intestine and enters the bloodstream where it can be used for energy by the body’s cells.

BUT in order to get into cells it needs help to get thru the cell doors. This is where Insulin helps by grabbing the glucose and sending it into cells.


What happens in the horse in Insulin Resistance?

Basically, the cell has no doors to allow the insulin to get the glucose inside and the glucose molecules remain in the blood stream.

Even worse a cascade of effects occurs where the pancreas thinks it needs to send out more insulin to help the glucose get into the cells and so the blood levels of insulin continue to rise along with the glucose!

Eventually the glucose can enter the cells and the blood glucose returns to normal levels but it is slow. And if this situation described above occurs often enough over a long period of time the pancreas cells have to work too hard and may fail, then the blood glucose levels may never return to normal.

Another hormone involved at this stage called ‘Leptin’ which is released by the fat cells and normally will shut off appetite as it permits the uptake of nutrients into the cells. When things go wrong and cells become resistant to leptin, the horse continues to be hungry, continues to eat and leptin continues to be produced at higher levels. This triggers a stress response in the body and suppresses the thyroid. This slows the metabolic rate of the horse.

Both these responses can lead to fat storage or deposits, and the more fat a horse, the more signals are sent to reduce the cell receptors for insulin. Then the more fat produced the higher the insulin levels as the cells become resistant to the insulin.

Also an underweight horse with a high metabolic rate can be insulin resistant and will eventually develop the fat deposits commonly seen along the neck and tailhead.

All this can also lead to Laminitis = weakened laminae attachment in the hoof.

What can you feed a horse with Insulin Resistance?

The goal is to reduce insulin output from the pancreas, so avoid sugar and starch feeds as above in PPID.

Have your diet analysed by a nutritionist, feed an NSC value of less than 10 – 12%.

Restrict pasture and grazing.

Keep your minerals balanced.

Most especially Magnesium and Chromium.

Brewer’s yeast for your B vitamins.


IR in a nutshell

  • Insulin is a hormone
  • It is released into the bloodstream when blood sugar (glucose) levels rise after eating
  • Insulin helps to get glucose inside cells for energy
  • If cells don’t allow insulin to get the glucose into cells then the glucose remains in the blood stream. Then more insulin is released in response….
  • Causes cells to become resistant to letting insulin take glucose into cells
  • Causes fat deposits and can cause laminitis
  • Avoid feeding high sugar and starch to horse
  • Restrict grazing

Metabolic Problems

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What are the issues?

PPID = pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), also known as Cushing’s disease

IR = Insulin Resistance (also known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome)

EMS = Equine Metabolic Syndrome (also known as Insulin Resistance)

Laminitis = weakened sensitive layers of tissue (laminae) inside the hoof in horses


Note – PPID and EMS have Hyperinsulinemia = Insulin Resistance

All of these conditions can get laminitis.

Therefore, it becomes extremely important to understand both how to control insulin levels and exactly how insulin causes damage to the laminae if we are going to effectively prevent and treat this type of laminitis.


pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction also known as Cushing’s disease.

What causes PPID?

Horses get PPID because of oxidative damage to nerves in the hypothalamus of the brain.  These nerves normally produce dopamine which controls the output of some hormones, (like ACTH, from the intermediate lobe of the pituitary). A simple blood test done by your vet can diagnose PPID.


What happens when a horse has PPID?

These hormones can be responsible for causing or worsening the insulin resistance that can eventually can result in laminitis. Note that Laminitis is often the worst consequence we see of the PPID condition in a horse. Also, a horse can be overweight or underweight with PPID and you need to feed accordingly.

The classical signs of Cushing’s Disease in horses (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction/PPID) –

  • Poor topline,
  • Muscle wasting
  • Abnormal fat deposits
  • Sagging belly
  • Long curly coat that fails to shed are only evident fairly late in the condition are typically seen in the teenage horse.
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decreased immune function
  • Laminitis


  • A sharp increase (doubling is common) in water consumption and urine production late summer and early autumn is a common sign.  This correlates with the normal seasonal increase in ACTH hormone which is exaggerated in early PPID horses.
  • The development of regional fat accumulation in the hollows above the eyes, along the crest, withers, rump, tail base or chest wall is a marker of insulin resistance rather than PPID but if this appears for the first time when the horse is in his/her teens early PPID should be suspected as a cause.
  • A severe marker of PPID can be Autumn laminitis. It is caused by the sudden and dramatic rise in ACTH which occurs seasonally and the IR it causes.


What can you feed a horse with PPID?

Keeping the hormone ACTH in normal range with treatment given in the form of a drug Pergolide mesylate.  (which usually is possible with adequate dosing in the vast majority of cases).

A low sugar and starch, mineral balanced diet to further support control of insulin resistance.

Specific herbal prescription from a qualified herbal practitioner

Hoof care is critical to rehabing the laminitis horse.

Once stable, regular exercise is encouraged.

A diet where everything the horse eats has less than 10% simple carbohydratessugar (ESC) and starch. (Fructan is not a sugar and does not enter that 10% total.)

Examples of these feed stuffs in NZ and Australia would be:

  • Meadow hay made of low sugar horse friendly grass species (see pervious posts).
  • Meadow chaff,
  • Oaten chaff,
  • Sugar beet pulp,
  • Flax seed oil,
  • Flaxseed meal,
  • If the horse is thin then extra feeds such as French white millet and linseed will help condition.


PPID in a nutshell

  • Abnormal pituitary gland function in brain and hormone ACTH levels
  • Also called ‘Cushings’
  • Usually found in older horses
  • Can result in insulin resistance
  • Can result in Laminitis
  • Can treat with herbs
  • Can treat with drug pergolide
  • Feed low sugar and starch feedstuffs

Keep your horses gut healthy in the summer heat

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It’s finally a fabulous hot summer, you are riding, competing, trail riding and generally getting in a lot more exercise with your horse. But how do you manage to maintain good gut health in all the heat?

What are the issues?

1/ Work intensity (related to how much heat is generated by the horse during exercise) and how each individual horse can deal with this depends on factors such as their fitness level. For example it may require an unfit horse much more extreme effort to achieve an activity easily handled by a fit horse.

(That part is pretty obvious to most of us, yet something that may be easily forgotten in the excitement and enjoyment of summer riding.)

2/ Fluid and electrolyte losses in sweat are greater for intense efforts but don’t forget that horses working for prolonged periods at lower levels may accumulate the equivalent sweat losses!

3/ An additional factor for horses working for prolonged periods is less opportunity to eat and drink and possible changes in diet. Especially when you are away from home competing.

What happens?

High core body heat can reduce the number and diversity of organisms in the digestive tract.  Reduced efficiency of fermentation and lowered generation of volatile fatty acid fermentation products means less efficient use of fibrous feeds and less efficient absorption of nutrients and water.

This all contributes to immune dysfunction and other health issues for your horse.

What can you do to help?

1/ Make sure your horse has been properly conditioned for the work you do. If you only ride in the weekend don’t expect your horse to be able to handle huge amounts of prolonged exercise.

Just like a person, if you only go to the gym on Saturdays you wouldn’t sign up for 4 days of mountain climbing!

2/ Guarantee adequate intake of salt/electrolytes and constant supply of water to avoid the disrupted intestinal function that comes with dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities.

3/ Protect the gut:
  • Supplements containing ingredients like L-glutamine, Marshmallow root and Aloe Vera can help soothe irritated linings while mannanoligosaccharides (a class of carbohydrate) are a substrate for growth of beneficial bacteria. Also, beta-glucans provide gentle stimulation for the local gut immune system.
  • Probiotic supplementation can be helpful in restoring beneficial gut bacteria populations.  This supports good fermentation, absorption and immune function.  A blend of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast (for example Brewer’s yeast) and bacterial species is best.

4/ A good diet helps support fermentation and levels of fatty acids as well as promoting good hydration both in the intestinal tract and throughout the body.

  • Feed easily fermented and high soluble fibre supplements for example; Fructooligosaccharides, widely used in animal nutrition for their prebiotic properties as bio-regulators of the digestive flora and function. Psyllium husk fibre (always wet before feeding) or beet pulp.
  • Feed a supplement with good digestive enzyme (amylase, lactase, cellulase, phytase, lipase, protease) activity as these assist with small intestine functions so that the hind gut does not get overloaded.

It is crucial to consider the effects of exercise and heat on the gastrointestinal and activity integrity of your horse.

Take home message is to have in place a gradual increase in exercise combined with reasonable work expectations and a diet targeted to support the gut.

Brewer’s Yeast

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Hi Team, hope the sun is shining where you are today! What a great early spring in NZ.

I thought I would share another of my favourite natural feedstuffs that I feed to my own horses = Brewer’s Yeast

Make you think of Beer? You would be correct.

Brewer’s yeast is an ingredient used in the production of beer and bread. It is made from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a one-celled fungus.

Brewer’s yeast is also used as a nutritional supplement. It’s a rich source of chromium, which may help the body maintain normal blood sugar levels. It is also a source of B vitamins.

Vitamins B (1, 2, 3 – Niacin and 5 – Pantothenic acid) are necessary for metabolising carbohydrates, fats and protein into usable energy in the horse. The more your horse exercises the higher the requirement for these vitamins.

Specifically, these four vitamin B’s are found in Brewer’s Yeast.

Why is it so good? Because many owners now avoid diets for their horses which contain a lot of grains which normally would supplement these vitamins, so providing them in this natural package is a great way of avoiding metabolic disorders.

Because it is a source of chromium, Brewer’s Yeast improves glucose tolerance and may improve blood sugar levels. It can definitely be a part of the overall dietary answer to help many issues.

Feeding rates vary between individuals depending on type, weight and exercise etc. A rule of thumb would be around 10g per day for ponies, 15g per day for small hacks, 22g per day for thoroughbreds.


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Hi team

Post #2 of some of my favourite natural feed stuffs to add to your horse’s diet is Linseed Aka Flaxseed.

Why is it so good?

Linseed or Flaxseed has many nutritional benefits, the most notable being its high omega-3 content.

Omega-3 fatty acids enhance overall health in horses. This essential fatty acid is vital for growth, strength, behavioural balance, learning ability and motor co-ordination, as well as assisting most of the functions of the omega 6 essential fatty acid.

Linseeds contain all the essential amino acids, from which the body can manufacture the other amino acids required to make proteins.

Note -The only natural, un-supplemented source of omega-3 in the equine diet is fresh grass.

Linseed can help reduce inflammation, which can relieve symptoms associated with sweet itch and other skin conditions. It can also alleviate symptoms of allergies.

Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it also helps in cases of arthritis or joint stiffness. It also boosts the immune system and can help regulate thyroid function, making it an ideal supplement for metabolic horses as well as aging horses.

Research conducted at the University of Guelph demonstrated that horses suffering from sweet itch, a common skin disease caused each summer by Culicoides insects (midges), improved dramatically following daily supplementation of their diet with one pound of milled flaxseed.

What else?

Other benefits of flaxseed supplementation include stimulation of the immune system, relief of arthritis and reduction of pain due to inflammation, an increase in the ability of cells to take up oxygen and scavenging of free radicals.

The oil shortens the time necessary for fatigued muscles to recover after exertion, and shortens healing time for bruises, sprains, and other injuries. It increases energy, stamina, and the feeling of vitality, and makes skin soft, hair shiny, and hooves strong.

If feeding Flaxseed Oil, always start with introducing a small amount of oil into your horses’ diet first and building up as necessary over @10 days.

Hind Gut Acidosis

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Hi team,

After last week’s post on laminitis I thought it a good time to discuss hind gut acidosis.

Your horse’s digestive system;

First your horse takes a bite. Then it enters the horses stomach. This stomach produces acid continuously which starts protein digestion and handily destroys microbial organisms your horse has consumed by eating off the ground. And let’s face it we’ve all seen them eat next to their own poop!

Second this pulverized food mass enters the small intestine for further digestion of all the good stuff like carbohydrates, sugars and starch. But NOT fibre.

Thirdly that fibre is digested in the hind gut. Your horses gut has a really unique gut that has a fermentation vat (caecum) for fibre digestion. This contains a huge number of special bacteria hungry to break down fibre also providing your horse with energy. It is located at the end of the horses long digestive tract therefore = hind gut

It’s all a fine balancing act. Optimum is for the starch and sugars to be digested fully in the fore gut. If they are not and reach the hind gut then they undergo fermentation.

Bacterial fermentation in the hind gut results in lactic acid production. This is the big problem as lactic acid causes the acid ph to lower killing the special fibre digesting bacteria.

This can cause all types of problems such as laminitis or colic.


What can you do;

Feed fibre, more fibre (notice a theme here folks)

Horses are ‘trickle feeders’ (Juliet M Getty, Ph.D, Feeding Horses Fundamentals). They require a continuous supply of small amounts of forage. This avoids problems with too much acid and no food to work on except the gut lining = AKA gut ulcers.

Feed your horse like a natural wild horse, able to graze small amounts continually.

Feed small meals of grain and concentrates, large amounts lead to the undigested meal flowing into the hind gut and upsetting the microbes and causing further acid production i.e. more issues, laminitis or colic!


What do you feed if your horse is at risk:

Fibre, pasture (not green or fresh), hay, chaff.

This is a huge problem currently facing those of you in parts of Australia where the is literally no pasture, and hay is about to run out. Get hold of meadow and oaten chaff, the more fibre the better.

If you have no hay feed natural feedstuffs high in fibre such as, wheat bran, wheat germ, French white millet cooked with linseed, sunflower hulls and beet pulp. Remember to start with feeding small amounts and increase a new feed slowly. Don’t shock your horses gut by introducing a new feed too quickly.

Feed probiotics and prebiotics, (yogurt), apple cider vinegar and if you really are looking at signs of trouble in the gut feed manuka honey and aloe vera juice. And get a vet to check your horse asap.

Feel free to send me a message if you would like an individual diet calculated specifically for your horse. Check out the website link .


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Look out for LAMINITIS

Hi team
I’m looking out the window this morning, soaking up the glorious SUN!!

It feels like I moved to a different city after being so wet for soo long.
Now I don’t want to rain on the sunny brigade (pun intended), but I want to warn you that today is the start of perfect grass growing conditions. Which is great as most of us (and our horses) are eagerly looking at that non-muddy patch of tasty new green grass just dying to move onto it and munch thru!
Beware – this is the time the dreaded Laminitis lurks, just waiting to strike!

In a nutshell (I like simple definitions for things) the green grass (high sugar/ starch) for some horses, especially those that have gone without much goodness in their pasture for the long winter, can go straight from the foregut (small intestine) thru to the horse’s hindgut without being digested very well.
In the hind gut the good bacteria that breakdown the sugar in the grass can’t keep up, causing fermentation because the bad bacteria multiply.

The very special conditions in the gut get out of whack – importantly the acid/base balance. Soo the acidity climbs. This can start a chain reaction of metabolic events you don’t want e.g. colic, diarrhoea, lamintis…🤒

In the case of laminitis, the bad bacteria release endotoxins into the bloodstream.
These activate enzymes in the foot which destroy the laminae inside the hoof. Inflammation happens, there is a reduction in blood flow and bones can move. Basically, everything inside the hoof becomes unstable. It’s extremely painful and a very long road to recovery (if it’s even possible).

Soo what to do?? Fibre folks, fibre!! Lots of hay, (old is best). Strip graze is best, graze for short periods of time if you can. If you have cows put them thru the fresh grass first. Exercise and low starch feeds.

And best of all herbs, there are some wonderful herbs and treatments for laminitis prone horses. I have had horses with laminitis and can attest to getting them back to health with a herbal prescription and a strict feeding practice. 🌿
And believe me, from experience, if you can prevent lamintis in the first place, do it!


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Hi there, as we move from wet and muddy in NZ very quickly into hard and dry ground; with grass growth going from none to green and lush and back to brown again, we need to take extra care to support our horse’s immune systems.
I will discuss a few of my ‘go to’, must have feedstuffs that I recommend for horses in the next few posts.

These are natural feeds and supplements that contain minerals, vitamins and ingredients that are more bioavailable to the horse than many processed synthetic feeds.
I believe that the use of natural health philosophies, such as feeding natural feedstuffs and herbs, in the long term can help our horses resist disease and in addition provide nutritional and immunological support that pharmaceuticals lack. The goal is prevention as well as cure!

Let’s start with my favorite = Rosehips
An awesome powerhouse that contains Vitamin C (it is the highest natural source of up to 2,000 mg per 100 gram), Vitamins: A, D, E (total vitamins 14), Biotin, Minerals: iron, copper, cobalt, calcium, silica (total minerals 18), carotene, flavonoids, pectin, tannin, fruit acids.

This beauty is a powerful anti-oxidant, with considerable protective and restorative powers due to its vitamins and minerals.
Its properties make it useful as
• Capillary stimulant,
• immune protectant,
• blood flow and tissue damage restorative,
• growth stimulant,

It is great for growth of hooves after laminitis attacks, used for horses with arthritis, or after respiratory infections. Also for rehabilitation after injury and disease, where high doses of vitamin C may be required.

I use rosehips as a daily staple in my horses’ diets to retain good health, excellent hoof condition and help fight infections.

Get your horse Rosehips today!
I use whom only source reputable growers and suppliers.