Tonight, we have the pleasure of having Dr. Lindsay Goodale, an Equine veterinarian at Cornell University, present on “Equine Metabolic Diseases: Common Pitfalls in Horse Feeding.” Dr. Goodale will discuss the various equine metabolic diseases and the common mistakes made in horse feeding. Focus will be placed on issues such as obesity, equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, and hindgut imbalance. The importance of body condition scores in assessing horse health will also be explored, along with strategies for managing these diseases through carbohydrate restriction and exercise. Dr. Goodale will touch on the use of grazing muzzles, hay nets, and supplements in horse nutrition, as well as diagnostic tests for metabolic diseases. This informative video is brought to you by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.

We are delighted to have Dr. Lindsay Goodale with us tonight as our speaker. As an Equine veterinarian and Equine Specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension, Dr. Goodale is a valuable resource for horse owners, Extension educators, and industry professionals alike. In tonight’s presentation on equine metabolic diseases and common pitfalls in horse feeding, Dr. Goodale will share her insights and experiences, approaching the topic from a veterinarian’s perspective. Prepare to gain a deeper understanding of obesity, equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, and hindgut imbalance, along with practical strategies for managing these conditions. Stay engaged and feel free to ask questions or share your thoughts in the chat.

Understanding Equine Metabolic Diseases

Equine metabolic diseases are a group of conditions that affect the metabolic processes and overall health of horses. These diseases can have significant consequences for the well-being and performance of horses, making it crucial for horse owners and caretakers to have a thorough understanding of them. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the definition and categories of equine metabolic diseases, as well as their significance in the equine population.

Definition and Categories of Equine Metabolic Diseases

Equine metabolic diseases refer to a range of conditions that affect the metabolism and energy regulation in horses. These diseases can lead to various health issues and may impair a horse’s ability to maintain a healthy body condition and metabolize nutrients effectively. There are several categories of equine metabolic diseases, each with its own distinct characteristics and effects on horses.

  1. Obesity in Horses: Obesity is a prevalent metabolic disease in horses and is characterized by an excessive accumulation of body fat. This condition can lead to a host of health problems, such as insulin resistance, laminitis, and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).

  2. Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS): EMS is a metabolic disorder characterized by insulin dysregulation, obesity or regional adiposity, and laminitis. Horses with EMS often exhibit signs such as abnormal fat distribution, insulin resistance, and recurrent laminitis.

  3. Laminitis: Laminitis is a debilitating condition that affects the feet of horses, specifically the laminae, which connect the hoof wall to the underlying structures. It is often associated with metabolic diseases, particularly EMS and obesity, due to the inflammatory cascade triggered by excessive intake of non-structural carbohydrates.

  4. Hindgut Imbalance and Digestive Disorders: Hindgut imbalance and digestive disorders can occur as a result of disturbances in the microbial population in a horse’s gastrointestinal tract. These conditions can lead to issues with nutrient absorption, colic, and other digestive complications.

Understanding the different categories of equine metabolic diseases is essential for recognizing the signs and symptoms and implementing appropriate management strategies.

Significance of Metabolic Diseases in Horses

Equine metabolic diseases have a significant impact on horse health and welfare, as well as the equestrian community as a whole. These diseases not only affect the physical well-being of horses but also impact their behavior, performance, and overall quality of life.

  1. Health Implications: Equine metabolic diseases can lead to a range of health issues, including insulin resistance, laminitis, obesity-related disorders, and digestive disturbances. These conditions can result in pain, discomfort, reduced mobility, and a decreased lifespan for affected horses.

  2. Performance Limitations: Horses with metabolic diseases often experience limitations in their athletic performance. Conditions like EMS and obesity can lead to reduced stamina, muscle loss, decreased flexibility, and impaired movement, preventing horses from performing at their full potential.

  3. Economic Considerations: Managing equine metabolic diseases can be financially burdensome for horse owners. The costs associated with veterinary care, specialized diets, medications, and supportive therapies can add up significantly, impacting the affordability and sustainability of horse ownership.

  4. Welfare Concerns: Equine metabolic diseases have welfare implications, as horses with these conditions may suffer from chronic pain, mobility issues, reduced quality of life, and an increased risk of developing other health complications. Ensuring proper management and treatment of these diseases is crucial for promoting good equine welfare.

As such, understanding metabolic diseases in horses and implementing appropriate preventative measures and management strategies are vital for ensuring the well-being and longevity of our equine companions.

Common Metabolic Diseases in Horses

Equine metabolic diseases encompass a range of conditions, each with its own unique characteristics and implications for horse health. In this section, we will delve into the most common metabolic diseases observed in horses, including obesity, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), laminitis, and hindgut imbalance and digestive disorders.

Obesity in Horses

Obesity is a prevalent metabolic disease in horses and is characterized by an excessive accumulation of body fat. It is often associated with overfeeding, lack of exercise, hormonal imbalances, and genetics. Obesity can have severe consequences for horse health, leading to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, laminitis, joint problems, and cardiovascular disorders.

Managing obesity in horses involves implementing a balanced diet, restricting calorie intake, promoting regular exercise, and closely monitoring body condition score (BCS). It is crucial for horse owners to work closely with their veterinarians and equine nutritionists to develop tailored feeding and exercise plans to help horses achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is a metabolic disorder that affects horses, ponies, and other equids. It is characterized by a cluster of clinical signs, including insulin dysregulation, obesity or regional adiposity, and an increased risk of laminitis. EMS is associated with hormonal imbalances, particularly insulin resistance, and can be influenced by genetic predisposition, diet, and environmental factors.

Early detection and management of EMS are crucial for preventing the development of laminitis and reducing the risk of other associated health complications. Treatment and management strategies typically involve dietary modifications, exercise protocols, weight management, and close monitoring of insulin levels.


Laminitis is a painful condition that affects the feet of horses, specifically the laminae, which are the sensitive tissues connecting the hoof wall to the underlying structures. While laminitis can have various causes, it is commonly associated with metabolic diseases, particularly EMS and obesity.

The development of laminitis involves a complex cascade of inflammatory processes triggered by factors such as insulin dysregulation, carbohydrate overload, and systemic inflammation. Early recognition, prompt veterinary intervention, and diligent management are essential for alleviating pain and preventing the progression of laminitis.

Management strategies for laminitis include dietary adjustments, restricted grazing, appropriate hoof care, pain management, and addressing any underlying metabolic imbalances or concurrent health issues.

Hindgut Imbalance and Digestive Disorders

Horses rely on a delicate balance of microorganisms in their hindgut (cecum and large colon) to efficiently digest fiber and other nutrients. Hindgut imbalance and digestive disorders can occur when there is a disruption in the microbial population, leading to suboptimal nutrient absorption, colic, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal complications.

Causes of hindgut imbalance can include sudden changes in diet, continuous exposure to high-starch or high-sugar feeds, antibiotic use, stress, and other factors that disrupt the microbial ecosystem. Managing hindgut health involves providing a balanced diet, introducing changes in feed gradually, using pre- and probiotics to support gastrointestinal function, and minimizing stressors that can negatively impact gut health.

By understanding and recognizing the common metabolic diseases in horses, horse owners and caretakers can take proactive steps towards prevention, early detection, and effective management, ultimately promoting the health and well-being of their equine companions.