ANYONE who has had to witness a horse or pony suffering with laminitis will surely agree that it is one of the most distressing conditions experienced by horses and ponies.

The owner feels powerless to ease their animal's suffering and the preventative action that has to be taken in order to avoid further attacks can result in the animal living a totally unnatural existence.

The causes of laminitis are many and most people now accept that it is not just a case of a hardy pony being given too much to eat.

Laminitis can occur as a result of drugs, digestive disorders, concussion, shock, after foaling or in conjunction with conditions such as Cushing's disease.

For animals whose laminitis is due to Cushing's disease the following suggestions still apply, but advice on other more specific herbs to help with their condition should be sought.

Herbal medicine takes a truly holistic approach to laminitis by using herbs whose actions will help to reduce the discomfort, address the cause of the problem, and then try to prevent any further deterioration.

It is important to remember, however, that it can take years for some of these conditions to develop, so you must be patient and not expect instant results. Although I have seen rapid improvement in many cases!

Select herbs that will help reduce pain and inflammation, cleanse blood toxins, assist in the excretion of inflammatory waste products, dilate blood vessels and in so doing stimulate circulation.

I am a bit of a purist and prefer to feed herbs to horses in their more natural fresh or dried form, however herbal tinctures are more quickly absorbed and can be helpful in acute situations.

Herbs can be used prophylactically and when combined with good horse management they can dramatically reduce the risk of repeated laminitic attacks.

Select herbs with anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions, such as Devil's Claw, meadowsweet, turmeric, yarrow and willow, to help reduce the discomfort.

Use circulatory stimulants, such as nettle, ginkgo, hawthorn and yarrow, to improve blood supply to the extremities.

If possible let the horse or pony graze on plants rich in rutin, such as hawthorn, which will help dilate blood vessels and thereby increase circulation.

Feed small quantities of warming herbs such as ginger, turmeric, cayenne and rosemary. These "culinary" herbs not only encourage the absorption of other plant constituents, but will help stimulate blood supply to the extremities.

The herb meadowsweet has much to offer, with its aspirin-like qualities it will not only help to reduce the pain and inflammation, but will be gentle on the digestive system and can help to neutralise the acidic environment in joint capsules.

To help support the liver and kidneys in their role of removing waste products from the body, you should feed herbs with a depurative action such as dandelion and burdock root.

Burdock is known as the "power digger" of the herb world because of its ability to pull waste products out of tissues. Remember to always combine burdock with herbs such as nettle or cleaver which will support the lymphatic system and help remove the waste products from the body. Cleaver is not only a lymphatic herb, but is also rich in silica to help encourage hoof growth and improve horn quality.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are used extensively in conventional veterinary treatment for conditions such as laminitis.

Many ponies and horses are given drugs such as phenylbutazone for weeks, if not months, at a time.

Although these drugs can be vital for the welfare of laminitic animals, it has been proven that they can be detrimental to the digestive system, causing inflammation, oedema and ulceration. Therefore, if you have to give NSAIDs to your horse, I would suggest using herbs which protect the lining of the digestive system and support liver function in conjunction with the medication. Herbs such as marshmallow root, slippery elm and milk thistle. I would also use a probiotic in conjunction with the drugs to help restore gut bacteria levels and balance.

In addition to these herbal suggestions there are a few tips which can help make the laminitic horse's life a little easier.

* MSM (methyl sufonyl methane) - this supplement is a source of bio available sulphur. Sulphur is one of the components of the connective tissue found in the disulfide bonds of the laminae which connect the laminae to the hoof wall. Many horses suffer from repeated attacks of laminitis so this supplement is worth considering.

* Many laminitic animals are kept on very strict diets, this could lead to a reduction in vital vitamin and mineral intake. It is therefore worthwhile feeding a good, balanced vitamin and mineral supplement to help prevent any deficiency.

* Feed fresh cleavers whenever possible. They are diuretic, specific for the lymphatic system, rich in silica and excellent for laminitics. Let your horse pick at plants such as hawthorn and meadowsweet when available.

l Feed fresh nettles, cut them down and leave them to wilt for a few hours so they no longer sting. They are a fantastic circulatory stimulant as well as being rich in iron and vitamin C.

* Give cider vinegar, this can be put into the drinking water or added to feed, 50ml daily. Try and source organic cider vinegar if possible, the acidity of the vinegar will help to break down calcification and act as a blood cleanser.

* Magnetic rugs and boots are now much more widely available and will improve circulation, which in turn will clear blood toxins from areas of inflammation and keep muscles warm and relaxed.

Recent research undertaken in the USA has confirmed that magnets can increase blood supply, reduce pain, bring more oxygen to the tissues to promote healing and carry away inflammatory bi products such as histamines and prostaglandins.

In addition to herbs there are other complementary therapies which can help tackle the mental and physical aspects of this terrible condition.

Bach flower remedies - select a suitable flower remedy depending on the horse's mental state. Give ten drops in each bucket of water or on a piece of apple.

These remedies can be given several times a day. Several remedies can be mixed together if more than one remedy seems appropriate.

Rescue/recovery remedy: this is for any occasion when there is stress or anxiety. Stress levels are high in animals with laminitis.

Crab apple: this is the cleansing remedy which should be used for any sick animal as a detoxifier or whenever there is infection.

Gorse: this is the remedy to use when horses are ill, lacking in energy due to illness, have become lethargic or are suffering from painful conditions such as laminitis which prevent them from resting.

Oak: this remedy should be used whenever animals have struggled with illness for a long time and need the strength to go on fighting.

Olive: this remedy is for animals which suffer from long-term stressful illness, mental or physical exhaustion.

Impatiens: if the horse is becoming irritable as a result of the pain.

Homoeopathic remedies - there are several homeopathic remedies which are specific for laminitis, such as bryonia, belladonna, ledum and arnica.

Which remedy and which potency of remedy you choose will depend on the presenting symptoms, and whether the condition is acute or chronic.

I suggest consulting a homeopathic vet or one of the excellent homeopathic reference books now available to help you select the most appropriate remedy.

Published: 01/04/2005