One of the most important conditions to recognize in a horse is also one of the most difficult things to depict in photos: equine pain. Two reasons: Horses in pain can be very stoic, and aside from obvious lameness, gaping wounds, or demonstrative outward signs of colic—rolling, biting at the flank, no poop, etc.—pain signs aren’t very evident on first glance. This can make the search for a convincing photo of a painful horse difficult.

Second reason: Simply, horse owners don’t take photos of their horses when they’re in pain.

I cannot blame them at all. As an owner, when my horses were in the throes of discomfort, the very last thing on my mind was reaching for a camera to document their symptoms. Instead, I was focused on easing their discomfort, getting the vet out, and tending to their every need. (As a young staffer on The Horse, though, I do remember shooting a photo of my mare during a founder scare.)

We’ve run into the lack-of-pain-photos problem for years at The Horse, using and reusing images from our wonderful sources and photographers who have them on hand. In the meantime we’ve grown up some of our own form of ambulance chasers: photographers who know veterinarians well and, with the owners’ consent, are permitted to shoot photos during veterinary examinations.

But alas, when we were working on the February issue, which contains a wrap-up of the recent 2012 Laminitis Conference, we had a tough time finding exactly the type of laminitic horse photo that we wanted to use for the cover. One of our team members spent hours (and I mean hours) poring over freelancers’ stock sites and contacting veterinarians, hoping to land us a shot that would say “laminitis.”

As luck would have it (okay, not really), my mom’s Tennessee Walking Horse was dealing with a bout of mild laminitis over Christmas. So my sister and I went out and had an impromptu photo shoot. We shot all kinds of angles, with and without pads duct-taped to his feet and with and without a foot in a bucket of imaginary ice water.

In the end, Silky was a great sport. But while he pulled off the “I’m very sad standing with my despondent owner” look quite well, he simply didn’t look laminitic. My mom had been taking great care of him, and he just didn’t have the look of a painful horse (he was back to his normal self within a few weeks). Besides, we had posed him for a little while in gravel dust arena footing, and our veterinarians advised that laminitic horses should be standing in more comfortable footing (which he had in his round pen). He wasn’t really “pointing” as some laminitic horses do, and we used buckets instead of the more-common special ice boots people are using to treat cases these days.

We struck out on the laminitic horse pics in that particular shoot, but we did get some photos for other topics and also ended up with this gem. Meet Percy, resident barn cat:

Photo: Sarah Lynn Church

Besides a brush-up on what laminitis researchers are uncovering, here are some things I learned in the February issue:

  • Managing a high-risk pregnancy is complex; there are a number of things that can go wrong and compromise her pregnancy.
  • Besides passing a Pony Club formal inspection and keeping your gelding comfortable, there are other reasons to clean a sheath: You might detect a problem that could save his life.
  • Speaking of safeguarding a horse’s life, before loading your horse in the trailer, consider a number of horse trailer maintenance steps that could do just that. 
  • A self-diagnosed bandaging geek, I enjoyed brushing up on the reasons to bandage and what’s acceptable and unacceptable in this practice.

There are several other articles filled with rich, helpful information. The single print copies of February are already sold out, but if you can view this issue immediately if you become a digital subscriber. (You can see the laminitic horse who ended up on the cover above.) Or, we’d love to have you join us as a print subscriber so you can begin receiving upcoming issues in the mail.

Readers of The Horse are a caring bunch, and I anticipate that next time one of them sees their horse exhibiting signs of some illness (after they’ve made sure the horse is comfortable, confirmed he’s not at death’s door, and called the vet) they’ll probably take a photo (or even a video), and send it to us, now that I’ve planted the thought.

Have you ever found your horse in pain? If an injury or condition wasn’t obvious, what was your clue that something was wrong?