Remembering Secretariat: Laminitis Is Still With Us (But This Conference Will Help)

by Fran Jurga | 4 October 2009 | The Jurga Report at

Can you imagine “the tremendous machine” that was Secretariat gimping around on sore feet? The Great One knew the horrible pain of chronic laminitis in his later years. (This great photo is featured on, where you can purchase it and stare at it for hours, which is what I plan to do.)

Today is one of the horse world’s sad anniversary days.

I remember the shock I felt on October 4, 1989 when I received the news that Secretariat had been euthanized at Claiborne Farm near Paris, Kentucky.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Secretariat back together again, as the nursery rhyme goes. His feet were ravaged by a long-term fight with chronic laminitis, an insidious form of the terrible disease that often includes painful relapses, recurrent abscesses and hoof capsule deformation.

Secretariat probably had good days and bad days. How horrible it must have been to watch such a proud, great horse on one of his bad days. A lame Secretariat would break your heart.

Twenty years later, famous and not-so-famous horses still fight chronic laminitis as well as many other forms of the disease. We all remember Barbaro, who fought the support limb dysfunction form of laminitis. Aged horses and certain breeds like Morgans suffer from a form of insulin resistance that can cycle with the seasons and cause insidious low grade laminitis. Hospitalized horses are still at risk for laminitis following colic surgery and especially in conjunction with diseases like colitis and Potomac horse fever. Drug reactions cause laminitis. Retained placentas in broodmares cause laminitis. Extreme hoof concussion, such as running on pavement, can cause a horrible mechanical form of laminitis called road founder. The list goes on and on.

That’s right. Twenty years after Secretariat’s death and the list goes on and on. After all this time, not one form of the disease has been nicely tied up, with all its questions answered, from research to treatment. Not one has been solved. And there are so many.

Over the past 20 years I have raised a lot of money for laminitis research, both directly and indirectly. I have put most of the money I raised into the hands of the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation and the Animal Health Foundation and hoped for the best.

And now I am going to find out what the best have to offer.

From November 6 to 8, I will be glued to a seat in the audience at the Fifth International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot in West Palm Beach, Florida. For three days, I will be embedded with the world’s foremost minds on the subject, both from the academic and field practice aspects of the disease.

Among the many advances in laminitis research and treatment to be unveiled at the 2009 laminitis conference in Florida will be 3-D CT imaging. These images are all constructed from CT scans of a single foot, a Standardbred with chronic laminitis in Queensland, Australia, and were taken at the same time. They were converted with Mimics, a commercial medical imaging software, by Dr Simon Collins at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, England, who will present this new technology at the conference. You can see both how the outer hoof capsule deformed and the inner blood supply and bone surface were damaged. These images grace the cover of the conference Proceedings book.

A roster of universities from four continents will present their latest research, and world leader Dr Chris Pollitt will convey his latest findings, along with his groundbreaking research on wild horse feet from the Australian outback, as he attempts to quantify truly normal hoof processes against which laminitis’s hideously abnormal processes can be legitimately compared.

Farriers and farrier/vets will show new shoes and boots and bandages and trims and ways to tell how and if the hoof is healing. Forage expert Katy Watt will look at how and when and why we put our horses out at grass. She might even add “if” this time–should some horses be out on grass ever, at all?

This conference will be a giant step forward for laminitis, a sound stride in a shaky world where many of us know not so much exactly what to do, but that we are compelled to do something by the pain that we see in our horses’ eyes. So often, owners of laminitic horses waste time and money and emotional energy; the money spent attending this conference is small compared to a year’s worth of exotic supplements or medications or even a single fee for applying a designer shoeing system that may be all wrong for a horse at a certain stage in the disease process.

If you have an interest in laminitis, a foundered horse in your barn, or a veterinarian, farrier or vet student whose career you support, I hope you will see the value in this conference and consider attending or sending an envoy.

I’ll save you a seat.

Learn lots more about the speakers, program topics, and the unique multi-disciplinary approach to learning about laminitis and hoof diseases at




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