A very common set of questions we hear in the horse rehabilitation world is, can a horse with laminitis be fixed or cured? Will a horse with laminitis ever be sound? How do you rehabilitate a laminitic horse? These are excellent questions, hopefully this article will help with the answer.
The first step to understanding laminitis is understanding the anatomy of the hoof and the horse as a whole. I wouldn’t say a deep understanding needs to happen, but we need to look at why horses have laminitic episodes and how it helps them, and in turn, hinders them. To note, laminitis is usually caused by humans through poor diet, poor care and over exertion of the hoof through trauma in which we name things like “road founder” etc. Sometimes it just happens though when they overeat on that sweet grass they love so much that doesn’t get limited. Laminitis is the first step towards founder, some people even consider it the same thing.
Laminitis is simply the result of the horse protecting it’s inner foot with extra keratin that never makes it out of the hoof wall. Why that happens is key though, and removing that from the horse’s environment is how the horse will go right back to being sound.
The idea behind laminitis is that the horse has endured some form of trauma. Trauma generally means physical blunt impact, but we’re also going to refer to trauma to the internal system of the horse through poor diet. Poor diet usually refers to giving access to too much sugar for the horse and in turn the horse’s internal system “breaks out” with the end product of laminitis. It’s like diabetes if we thought about it in humans. The amount of sugar that a body can manage is only so much, if it’s more then things start to get weird, in the case of humans we have severe nail, circulatory and bone issues. In horses it’s the same except it shows up best in their hooves.
Physical blunt trauma usually happens from a bad trail ride, running on pavement or jumping on pavement or a really bad bang on a rock or a fall. All of these things can trigger the hoof to protect itself with inflammation and extra keratin. Some people call that “white line disease”, which can be different but this gets lumped in there as well.
If you look at the following picture:
We can see this horse has severe laminitis. The laminitis that we can see at the edge of the sole extends to the hoof wall, it’s almost an inch. The color is different than the sole and the hoof wall, a bit lighter and obviously makes the hoof much bigger than it should be. This is an extreme case, which makes it easy to see. This horse needed this protection initially due to some issue, it’s unknown at this time as it happened a long time ago. This is also referred to as founder. Either way, it was never corrected or helped and in turn the soft keratin wedge that formed in between the coffin bone and hoof wall just kept getting bigger until it reached where it’s at in this picture. Amazingly, this is a very common affliction to see in the horse world as so many horses have it that it seems like it should be normal.
The purpose of this keratin, or lamellar wedge, is to protect the inner hoof. It’s softer than the outside hoof wall, also keratin, but adds an extra layer. If this horse were not to be shod or trimmed, in time it would break off pieces of hoof wall and the inner soft keratin would get worn away quickly with new hoof wall to grow down correctly. Unfortunately this horse was shod for a long time, holding the hoof wall off of the coffin bone and never allowing natural chipping and breaking off of the wall. It was also never correctly trimmed to get rid of it, as it couldn’t happen naturally, until finally the shoe was just being nailed on to it alone and no longer even touching the sole of the hoof.
This is very bad and absolutely leads to further rotation of the hoof capsule and sinking of the bones through the hoof, or rising of the hoof wall up depending on how you look at it. The result is the same, sooner or later you get pedal osteitis or the coffin bone going right through the thinning sole.
Laminitis is completely manageable and reversible in our opinion. If it’s severe then it takes time, up to a year possibly, if not then it’s a few months or so with proper regular maintenance and good diet. It must be taken seriously though, whether that is an immediate diet change or immediate change in riding environment. Trimming properly for it is essential and shoes need to be removed right away as keeping them on will encourage the hoof wall to continue to grow off of the bone, rather than keep it close. It takes time, but there is no reason that the horse can’t heal up outside of just being very old or very poor health.