Rethinking how to treat laminitis

February 22, 2015

Kurt comparison 2 21 2015


My white horse, Kurt, had a bout of laminitis in January 2015, and it made me rethink the treatment process.

Traditionally, Kurt has been my horse with the fewest problems. Despite his feet being white, they’ve been tough enough to trot on a gravel driveway. Kurt has always been barefoot, even when showing. He suffered a suspensory ligament injury in 2003 that ended his career.

Once he stopped exercising, his feet started having problems. Mostly abscesses. Not big hoof meltdowns.

His feet have been getting more stretched out over the last decade, and my longtime farrier did not seem interested in embracing the principles of farrier Pete Ramey. Ramey advocates a shorter foot from front to back. Ramey’s ideas have been my focus for the past two years. Based on my experiences, I would suggest that the horse owner and farrier have to be on the same page, or there will be tension. I took over trimming Kurt’s feet completely after his last farrier trim on April 4, 2014. You can see the foot I started with in the photo at left above.

By January 2015, I had made a lot of progress in getting rid of the flare on Kurt’s feet, but not enough.

On the morning of Jan. 5, 2015, a morning when the temperature was near zero, I noticed that Kurt was shifting his weight a little. When I got home from work that evening, he was totally lame in three feet, carrying most of his weight on his right hind. His left hind had the most pain, and it was burning up. His front feet were also really sore.

I assessed my options:

Option 1: Icing. Laminitis researchers tend to favor icing the feet and have plenty of research to show icing stops the laminitis process. I believe icing works well on a horse’s first case of laminitis, but it has been useless or painful for my chronically laminitic horses. And icing wasn’t even a choice, given the weather.

Option 2: Bute. Kurt had a very bad case of colic after he was given a gram of bute with his dinner in October 2014, likely the result of an ulcer, and I thought I would lose him that night. We decided that night that we’d go without bute, no matter what the pain. So no bute.

Option 3: Supplements. Veterinarian Eleanor Kellon has written a very interesting article on winter laminitis, and I considered if we wanted to add some supplements to Kurt’s diet, but buying those supplements would have been at least a week-long process, and I needed to do something immediately.

Option 4: Trimming. If there’s one thing I have learned in dealing with laminitis since 1998, it is this: The time to trim a laminitic horse is immediately. I don’t wait a day to see how the horse is doing. He’s in trouble because the way he’s loading his feet is painful. I will always take the risk of making a mistake in my trimming rather than doing nothing because doing nothing gets us nowhere.

In 4 degree weather that evening, I headed out to the shed with my belt sander, not fully believing the sander was going to work in that weather.

I was able to trim all four feet, even with Kurt in pain. I did a little trimming each night over the next three nights, though if I had to do it again, I would try to do it all the first night to provide more relief immediately.

Lowering Kurt's walls has allowed the frog to carry more weight.

Lowering Kurt’s walls has allowed the frog to carry more weight.

On each foot, I trimmed the walls and heel to get Kurt’s frog more contact with the ground. This unloaded Kurt’s walls (he has a big frog that does make ground contact), and I shortened the foot from front to back by sanding the hoof wall around the front in the same manner that a farrier would just nip that off. Then, I beveled the toe from the solar ridge forward so the tip of the toe was not making contact with the ground.

Kurt's toe is beveled from the solar ridge forward.

Kurt’s toe is beveled from the solar ridge forward.

The solar ridge concept is one offered by farrier Maureen Tierney, who says this ridge shows us where to trim. The horse develops this ridge on its own, even in a stretched out foot.

If you look at Kurt’s left front foot in the image from April 27, 2014, at the top of this post, the solar ridge is clearly evident as the outline where Kurt is loading the foot. The flared wall to the outside likely was uncomfortable. If I had trimmed his foot to the solar ridge originally, Kurt probably would have done better over the past year. Instead, I chipped away at that flare a little every weekend.

The end result of the Jan. 5, 2015, bout of laminitis was that Kurt got better each of the next three days (Jan. 6, 7 and 8), and he was sound by Jan. 9 and able to walk soundly over frozen ground. The low temperature overnight on Jan. 8 was 3 degrees.

We’ve had several more overnight lows of zero in recent weeks, and he’s remained sound. I trim him every weekend to keep the walls from growing out.

So what did I learn?

The core thing I accomplished was unloading his wall. I did nothing else. He was happy in three days with no bute.

When I look back at my late mare Angel’s bout of winter laminitis in 2004, her treatment involved putting her in a stall, shoeing her with reverse heart bars shoes, spending thousands of dollars in vet and farrier bills, changing her diet and testing her hay, etc., and she got worse, ultimately developing horrendous abscesses.

When I thumb through photos of Angel’s feet over the last few years of her life, her toes were way too long. Not ski jump long. Just way too long, which applied pressure to the tip of the toe every time she took a step.

I think we make trimming the laminitic horse too complicated. And correct trimming should start before the horse becomes laminitic.

The frog should cover most of the bottom of the foot and be in contact with the ground, reducing the pressure on the walls. And the toe needs to be trimmed back as far as possible and beveled.

I have never met farriers Pete Ramey or Gene Ovnicek (another proponent of the shorter foot), but I want to thank both of them for getting their ideas out to horse owners. Also, thank you to farrier June, who wrote me an email encouraging me to start reading Ramey’s and Ovnicek’s websites.

I’m sure Kurt and Robin, my last surviving laminitic horses, would be dead if I hadn’t embraced these farriers’ ideas.

Latest posts

How Laminil helped my laminitic horses

Laminil cream has allowed my horses’ feet to heal in the most extreme of weather conditions, both hot and cold.

Check hay, feed for high iron levels when treating laminitis in horses

Your horse’s diet may be full of excess iron, which studies have linked to insulin resistance.

Is laminitis linked to rising temperatures?

Researchers from The Netherlands have published a study tying human diabetes to increased outdoor temperatures.

Filtering water stops laminitis in horses; water tests indicated iron level was safe

Both geldings have seen huge improvement in their feet, even though they are eating grass around the clock.

Iron overload likely caused my horses’ laminitis

In “Clue” like fashion, I’m declaring the cause of my six horses’ laminitis over the last 18 years as an excess intake of iron from weeds, trace mineral blocks and well water, leading to insulin resistance and the insulin form of laminitis.

Feed more hay to laminitic horse, equine nutritionist says

We’ve created the insulin resistant horse by doing all the wrong things in the name of helping, according to Juliet Getty, Ph.D.

Vet examines why some laminitic feet return to soundness

Some horses recovering from laminitis and coffin bone rotation become sound even though the hoof wall no longer is parallel to the bone. Dr. Debra Taylor, DVM, looks at possible explanations for this occurrence in a video posted on