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If only preventing laminitis was simply a question of keeping fat ponies away from rich grass, but every year horses and ponies of every breed and discipline contract this excessively painful illness.

The Laminitis Trust, a charity founded by Robert Eustace, FRCVS, director of The Laminitis Clinic in Wiltshire, has designated May 2001 Laminitis Awareness Month to educate horse owners and riders on how best to avoid this crippling and often fatal disease and to raise funds for vital research.

In its mildest form laminitis presents as a mild lameness, a reluctance to move, or, if more severely affected, the animal lying down to try and get some relief from its painful feet. Sometimes the horse will be sweating, groaning and blowing giving rise to the misdiagnosis of colic. During severe attacks, however, the attachment between the pedal bone and hoof capsule starts to fail. This is described as foundering. The most severe form of founder is where the pedal bone becomes loose within the hoof and is described as a "sinker" - the majority of cases of which will die without rapid and expert treatment.

Robert Eustace says: "We recognise that laminitis can be brought on by a variety of factors, including stress. Trauma to the feet caused by excessive work on hard surfaces can cause laminitis particularly in show jumpers and endurance horses. But it is a fact that as
many as 80% of laminitis cases could be avoided by sensible feeding and management. Particularly worrying is the unwelcome practice of feeding high calorie diets to horses and ponies in order to achieve so-called 'show-ring condition'. Leading show judge and producer Robert Oliver joins me in saying that horses and ponies should be judged for fitness, not fatness."

Just one aspect of the work of The Laminitis Trust has been to pioneer an approval mark for horse feeds to guide owners towards those feed products which are safer to use both to prevent laminitis and during the treatment period. To carry the approval mark, feeds have to be submitted for scrutiny by The Laminitis Trust's Scientific Committee. Dengie, Dodson & Horrell and Spillers are manufacturing a selection of feeds which carry the Laminitis Trust Approval Mark and, to support National Laminitis Awareness Month, are producing helpful fact sheets and recommended diets.

Robert Eustace concludes: "Laminitis is not a condition to be taken lightly. I have witnessed at first hand the misery it can cause. We intend that National Laminitis Awareness Month will create a platform whereby many of the old wives' tales and misinformation are finally put to rest. Further vital research is essential, but until a cure is found, owners have the solution in their own hands. Sensible feeding and management are, in the majority of cases, the key to ending the unnecessary pain and suffering caused by laminitis. Advice is available on the website www.laminitis-org.

Every equestrian association and organization is being asked to support National Laminitis Awareness Month to aid understanding, promote better management and help raise funds for a research project. Please call the Press Office on 020 8933 8383 for further information.

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