Kip Deville. Barbaro. Secretariat. All were champions, and all share the lamentable status of having eventually succumbed to an illness that haunts all horse owners: laminitis. Whether we've lost one of our own horses to the insidious disease, or whether we've ached for the caretakers, veterinarians, and brave horses that have battled it for months at a time, exhausting every treatment option, laminitis is something all of us opinionated horsepeople can agree on--we continually hope equine researchers will discover a cure.
My first memory of laminitis takes me back to first grade. I sensed something terrible the morning my parents drew all the shades on windows on the back side of the house that faced the barn and pasture and forbade me to look outside. The American Saddlebred they'd purchased on their honeymoon, Star (the first horse I'd ridden as a toddler), was going to be put down because she'd foundered and was beyond our veterinarian's help. The man operating the backhoe was at work. I was confused and my mom was in tears.
I recall watching the 1990 Kentucky Derby coverage a few years later, during which I saw tribute footage of a muddy Secretariat happily wheeling around his pasture (video taken before his death in October 1989). It was hard to believe such a vibrant animal had lost his fight.
Through my teenage years I would ride past Star's grave and wonder whether laminitis was something that was going to end the life of every horse it hit. Since then, and in my last 11 years at The Horse, I've had the unique opportunity to watch researchers from all over the country and world peel back the layers of laminitis, learning more about the metabolic processes that typify it, uncovering evidence about better treatment methods, and examining new ways to prevent the disease in the first place.
In the August issue we give an overview of some of this research under way at various institutions. As Christy West points out in her story "Laminitis Lowdown," members of the American Association of Equine Practitioners who were surveyed last year listed laminitis as a top concern requiring more research.
The vets agree—it's a nasty condition. Something I find encouraging is that Barbaro's plight in 2006-2007 caught the world's attention, putting laminitis research back on the map as a fresh funding option for not only our industry but also the general public. The banners, flowers, and carrots outside the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, Barbaro's treatment home, were evidence to me that we have the drive to help researchers find answers and to join them in their quest.
Vernon Dryden, DVM, CJF, the veterinarian who treated Kip Deville at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., summed it up best. Steve Haskin's Bloodhorse.com story announcing Kip Deville's death quoted Dryden: "I would run up and hug and kiss anyone who could figure out how to cure this."
Amen, Dr. Dryden, amen.
When you hear the word "laminitis," what's your first thought? Have you encountered laminitis as a horse owner?
(Excerpted from the August 2010 issue of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care.)