Most of the work at the American Fondouk in Fes is concentrated on the donkeys and mules of the Fez Medina, and `the problems they develop from overwork and underfeeding. However, about twice a week they see horses from the other end of the equine spectrum that have the easily preventable hoof disease laminitis – a painful condition which can lead to founder. Suzanna Clarke reports for The View from Fez
Recently a magnificent Barb stallion arrived at the American Fondouk, referred by a local vet who was not able to provide the intensive 24 hr care the horse needed to survive.
“He is one of the best Fantasia horses in the country,” says Fondouk director Dr Gigi Kay (pictured above). Fantasia is a traditional equestrian performance practiced during cultural festivals in Morocco, and originates from the wartime practices of the Berber and desert tribes. These days it is a cultural art form; intended to show the strong relationship between man and horse. In a spectacular display, a group of riders and their mounts will charge in a line and, stopping suddenly, fire a volley of gunpowder from old-fashioned muskets.
|Moroccan Fantasia horses in action|
“He came in with laminitis and colitis - a direct result of totally inappropriate feeding practices,” says Dr Kay. “It is horrendously painful, in fact torturous, and lasts for months. This is why he spends all day lying down, as to be on his feet hurts too much.”
Laminitis results from the disruption of blood flow to the laminae of a horse´s hoof. The laminae structure secures the coffin bone (the wedge-shaped bone within the foot) to the hoof wall. Inflammation often permanently weakens the laminae and interferes with the wall/bone bond. In severe cases, the bone and the hoof wall can separate. In these situations, the coffin bone may rotate within the foot, be displaced downward ("sink") and eventually penetrate the sole. Laminitis can affect one or all feet, but it is usually seen in the front feet.
|Photo via Alanna Colleen Snyder|
Yet it is not from lack of care this situation arises, but from ignorance. The Barb stallion at the Fondouk receives about 10 visitors from his owner´s tribe at least twice a week, concerned about his welfare.
“The laminitis colitis complex is caused by overfeeding barley,” explains Dr Kay. “ A normal safe amount for this size horse is 5 kilograms of barley a day. This horse was receiving 20 kilograms of barley a day. The owners, along with all other Fantasia horse owners, know there is a link between barley and this disease, but they don´t know what the link is. They really don´t know that overfeeding is so dangerous. Most horses with laminitis colitis complex die or have to be euthanized.”
If a horse is given excess grain, it may be unable to digest all of the carbohydrate in the foregut. This excess then moves on and ferments, causing a proliferation of lactic acid bacteria and an increase in acidity. Endotoxins and exotoxins may then be absorbed into the bloodstream, and the result is body-wide inflammation – particularly in the laminae of the feet, where swelling tissues have no place to expand. Laminitis can also develop after a serious case of colic, due to the release of endotoxins in the blood stream. Releasing horses into lush pasture after a period inside can have a similar effect.
To assist Moroccan horse owners to understand how to prevent this condition, on November 26 the American Fondouk is holding a conference to explain the link between barley and this disease. Two specialists, one from Glasgow and the other from the United States, have been invited to help pass the message.
“Laminitis is completely and easily preventable - simply don't feed so much barley,” says Dr Kay.
Story: Suzanna Clarke
Fantasia photographs: Abdelmajid Nassih