Last Saturday, I watched with many other horse racing fans as the field loaded in the gate for the 2013 renewal of the Belmont Stakes. Palace Malice surprised me with his convincing victory, but I was excited that my favorites—Oxbow and Orb—held on for second and third, respectively.
An ongoing theme in this year's Belmont Stakes (and Triple Crown, for that matter) coverage was an event that took place four decades ago.
Forty years ago, on June 9, 1973, Secretariat—my favorite racehorse—galloped home 31 lengths in front of his nearest competitor to win both the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown. I wasn't around to witness the feat first hand, but watching videos of his races and reading countless articles about the big red horse made me fall in love with him and his story.
Laminitis claimed one of the greatest racehorses of all time: Secretariat.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Unfortunately, Secretariat's life was cut short; he died before he reached his 20th birthday. He was euthanized at 19 on Oct. 4, 1989, due to complications from the devastating hoof disease laminitis.
He's not the only well-known horse to lose the battle against the disease. I'm sure many of you remember a horse named Barbaro, who sustained a life-threatening leg injury in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. Surgeons repaired Barbaro's injured leg and the colt was on the road to recovery when he began developing laminitis. He was ultimately euthanized at 4 in January 2007.
The Quarter Horse industry lost one of their stars when two-time AQHA World Championship Show All-Around Amateur horse Zippos Ace Of Spades, who was euthanized in 2010 after a battle with laminitis.
And in 2010 the Saddlebred industry mourned the loss of nine-time World's Champion CH Gypsy Supreme was euthanized at age 23. He'd long battled with laminitis as a result of pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, or equine Cushing's disease), said a statement from the Kentucky Horse Park, where he'd lived since 2001.
And—likely more importantly to many owners—laminitis has claimed their first horses and ponies, promising prospects and accomplished competitors, beloved pets and working horses, and every type of horse in between. Although this dreaded disease isn't unique to senior horses, it is certainly a concern for many owners of aging equids.
For my family, laminitis has been a serious concern for our now 24-year-old Miniature Horse, Brandy. As she aged, she started having one or two laminitic episodes over the course of the year. Over the years these episodes became more frequent and more severe. In 2011, her condition worsened. Brandy's feet were very painful and she spent much of her days lying down.
Through all that, her appetite remained and her sweet personality, albeit somewhat subdued compared to her normal spunky self, never changed. We thought we'd run out of options and were preparing ourselves for the worst when the vet came to check her out. Fortunately, Brandy's story took a positive turn when her vet diagnosed her with PPID and began treatment; in a relatively short time, Brandy was ambling around comfortably and before long, she was running around the pastures again. She's been free of laminitic episodes for more than a year now, and we're taking each day at a time. But it's always in the back of our minds.
Veterinarians, scientists, and researchers are doing their best to unravel the mysteries behind this devastating disease. The American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation is leading a large-scale laminitis research project, which currently is in its early stages. I really hope the many researchers and veterinarians taking part in this project are successful in better understanding the disease and developing new diagnosis, treatment, and prevention options.
Have you ever managed a laminitis senior horse? What worked, and what didn't? Please share your experiences below.