Laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive laminae in the hoof which are 'Velcro-like' connections which interlock and suspend the pedal bone within the foot. When a horse suffers from laminitis, the condition causes these connections to separate and break down. Horses showing signs of laminitis must be treated as an emergency, as chances of recovery are maximised if treatment is started early.

The five signs to look out for are:

1. He 'feels' his feet

Mild laminitis can be confused with other sorts of lameness. Horses or ponies may look 'footy' and prefer soft ground to walk on. They may have a shorter, stilted and pottery gait and be reluctant to make tight turns. These horses are also often footsore or lame after they have been shod or had their feet trimmed. As the laminitis worsens, they will develop an abnormal stance, with the front legs stretched forward, while leaning backward on their heels in a bid to relieve pressure in their painful feet. These horses constantly shift their weight from foot to foot to try and relieve the discomfort and will be reluctant to pick their feet up. If walked, the horse will have a stiff gait and land heel first.

2. He won't move

In more severe cases, the horse will refuse to move and become distressed. He may sweat up, tremble and have high breathing and heart rates, due to the pain. Horses with laminitis should never be forced to walk, unless it is to get them from pasture to their stable.

3. Warm feet

Inflammation of the laminae increases the blood flow to the feet, which can make the hooves feel warm to touch. Be aware, though, that this is not the most accurate sign of a problem as some laminitics will have cool feet. The digital pulses will be increased- these can be felt where the horse's digital artery runs over the back of the fetlock on each side. 

4. Pain in the sole

The tip of the pedal bone sits within the hoof, above the area between the apex of the frog and toe on the sole. Severe laminitics will display a pain reaction if you press this area with your fingers. 

5. An altered foot shape

Laminitis may go unnoticed in some mild cases, or previous episodes may have happened before you purchased the horse. Rings on the hoof wall that are wider at the heel than at the toe or dropped soles with wider than normal white lines are common signs that the horse has suffered from the condition before. These characteristic changes are indicators that they are at a high risk of another episode.