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Laminitis – When the Mechanics of the Hoof Fail

by Anja Huehmer
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Equine Laminitis is a devastating and commonly occuring disorder in horses. Affected horses will experience immense amounts of pain, which ultimately leads to their owners having to put them down in most cases. The condition involves the coffin bone, a larger bone inside of the hoof, detaching from the laminae, the tissue surrounding this bone and holding it in place, and rotating downwards. 

Characteristics of the Disorder

The equine hoof has two sets of laminar tissues, one attached to the inner hoof wall and one attached to the coffin bone, which tightly interlock. The process of laminits is initiated due to an inflammation between the two laminae in the inside of the foot, which is mostly associated with some type of endocrine or metabolic disorder. Due to the inflammation, the lamniae tissues weakens and eventually disconnects. This leads to immense pressure inside of the hoof, which is the primary reason for the high amounts of pain affected animals experience. As the tissue disconnects, the coffin bone detaches and is no longer held in place. Therefore, it slowly rotates downward and towards the foot’s sole. As the bone cannot reattach to the tissue or be forced back into its original position after rotation, these effects are irreversible.


Laminitis is associated with overweight and abnormal fat deposits on the horse’s body. This in turn often leads to metabolic disorders such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), which both exhibit high amounts of insulin being produced and circulated in the blood flow. Although it is still unclear how exactly the disorder is triggered, it has been found that exposure to high amounts of insulin causes weakening of the lamellar tissue and also of the mechanics of the hoof.


As there is no set cure to heal laminitis, most owners are only left with the option to manage the symptoms and minimize the pain their horse is experiencing. The primary action is to improve the comfort of the horse by minimizing the weight bearing of the affected feet and through the administration of pain relivers. A deep bedding of shavings can encourage the horse to lay down or bedding like sand, which easily conforms to the feet, can offer additional support and reduce concussion. Due to the constant stall rest and lack of exercise, sedatives are often administered to calm the horse’s temperament and prevent injuries or further strain of the feet. An additional measure to take is corrective shoeing. With the correct care and an experienced farrier, therapeutic shoeing can redistribute stress away from the most affected and sensitive parts and towards the less painful areas of the sole.

Overall, laminitis is a very impactful disease that we still don’t know a lot about. The key to prevention is early diagnosis and keeping your horse at a healthy weight. If you know your horse is predisposed due to metabolic issues, make sure you work closely together with your veterinarian. If laminitis is diagnosed early enough, the horse’s hoof should be able to be preserved or restored from minor deformations.

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