A new fitness regime for our ponies and donkeys

The equine animals at Sacrewell have been a little bit spoiled in the past, but our Farm Assistant Amy has now taken their care in hand and, with advice from our vet and the Donkey Sanctuary, she’s given them a new fitness regime.

Overweight animals, like overweight humans, can be susceptible to long term health problems such as heart and lung conditions. Equine animals (horses, ponies, donkeys and zebras) which are overweight also become more susceptible to a condition called laminitis.

Laminitis is defined by World Horse Welfare as “a condition of the feet in which there is painful inflammation and weakening of the sensitive tissues (laminae) that bond the pedal bone (the main bone within the hoof) to the hoof wall.” It can cause extreme pain and makes it difficult for the animals to walk.

Our Shetland pony Tramp has had laminitis in the past, which means it is likely to come back again, so Amy has been taking special steps with him and Luna. It’s a two pronged attack involving a gradual restriction of their diet and a gradual increase in their exercise. They are now being taken for a daily walk around the farm, before which, if she has time, Amy gives the ponies a thorough grooming. This helps their circulation and warms up their muscles. You might also notice, if you’re a regular visitor, that the ponies are spending more time in the stables than in the paddock, as their access to the rich Cambridgeshire grass needs to be restricted. Amy is hoping to buy some small holed hay nets in the future so the ponies can have the constant access to food that their digestive system requires, but without the risk of them gorging themselves.

Donkeys can also suffer from laminitis, so there have been changes in the donkey paddock too. The animal team have set up a series of fences in what is known as a ‘paradise paddock’. By placing the food, water and shelter that the donkeys need at different points in the maze of fences, we can encourage them to get more exercise throughout the day. This system also provides the donkeys with mental stimulation as the fences can be moved from time to time to create a new, more challenging maze.

The donkeys haven’t been able to try their new paddock yet as Jolly Joules is under vet care for a foot injury and needs to stay in the stable. In the meantime, Amy has come up with healthy ways to keep them entertained such as tasty tree branches to nibble on and dingley dangley treats.