Ask The Vet: Miniature Horses

Answered by, Barbara Kahl, DVM, Yamhill, Oregon
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: I have been caring for a miniature horse that is on pergolide. I muzzle him to go out at night and feed Purina mini and pony feed at a 8oz am and pm feeding. He does not have a cresty neck nor fat pads, but is still holding on to his winter coat. The farrier says his feet look good so far. Is there anything I can do to progress him to start shedding out? 

Answer: Thank you for taking such good care of a ‘metabolic needs’ miniature horse. Look at the contents of the grain you are feeding, evaluate the vitamins/mineral list, probiotics, prebiotics, fat content, etc.  Compare labels. A low sugar grain might be a better choice that is formulated for a metabolic needs horse. Add a vitamin/mineral supplement to compliment the concentrate you are feeding, unless it states “complete feed”. Feed per weight; miniature horses despite being small, require the same nutrients as a big horse. The only alteration is feeding for their size and weight as given on the bag recommendations.

Most miniature horses only shed out “some” in summer; that is normal. I recommend shaving your miniature horse and having a turnout sheet, fly sheet, or blanket available as needed for the ambient weather conditions in your area. Sunscreen may also be needed if your mini has a lot of white areas with pink skin after shaving. Bathe your miniature horse to remove the deep dirt close to the skin. To shave use a clipper blade that is 7.5mm or shorter cut (the larger the number, the shorter the cut). 7.5mm is a good length for those minis that will be in the pasture and not used for showing, driving, or other activity. Start shaving at the belly and work up the sides and neck. Shaving some of the hair from the main also is helpful to thin it out taking strain off of the nuchal ligament in the neck. Working backwards from the neck do the back and hips.  If your mini is on pasture, there is no need to shave below the carpus (knees), or hocks, ears or face. This should help your mini be more comfortable as summer approaches. If their halter is tight, shave a bridle path at the mane, and shave the cheeks and muzzle of your mini. They will grow their hair back before the winter months.

Thank you for being a great caretaker for a special needs miniature horse!

Question: What are the determining factors that put minis at risk for laminitis/founder? Mine is accustomed to being outside year round and nibbling on whatever grass she can find. Is spring grass, then, still a danger, aside from the fact that she might put on too much weight?

Answer: Spring grass is that silent laminitis inducing, lush green forage that has a higher content of NSC. NSC stands for non-structural carbohydrates and is the combination of sugar and starch in horse forage. The higher content of NSC in the grass is the factor in determining a concern for laminitis. Allowing your mini to graze during evening or late night hours is best. Morning grasses have the highest accumulation of NSCs. Depending on how much area your miniature horse has access to, a grazing muzzle might be needed.

Laminitis occurs with hindgut disturbances that may induce inflammation within the hoof. However, spring grass with high NSC levels is only one inciting factor that may lead to those disturbances and laminitis. The digestive capacity of the hindgut and the ingestion of high amounts of starch and sugars exceeding the digestive capacity of your miniature horse’s small intestine is key to inducing or not inducing laminitis. Over indulging, eating too much grass, may increase undigested material in the stomach that flows through to the gut, inducing a rise and proliferation of lactic acid bacteria; with that rise comes a change in hindgut pH, acidosis, and a cascade of events leading to laminitis.

Healthy miniature horses that have been on pasture consistently, are a healthy weight, and have never experienced laminitis may not need pasture restriction, just a change in pasture size. Each miniature horse is different so each should be evaluated for their ability to be on pasture, whether they need to be muzzled while on pasture, or completely removed and fed in a dry lot situation. Avoid putting your miniature horse on a pasture that is overgrown. Avoid pastures exposed to low temperatures combined with sunlight as that reduces the growth of grass and thus increases the NSC content of that grass.

As your miniature horse has been on pasture consistently, merely reduce the pasture size to ensure he/she is eating grazed grass while turned out.

Thank you for this important question regarding laminitis. Barbara Kahl, DVM, Yamhill, Oregon