Most farriers agree that no single treatment idea works best with every laminitic horse. They’ve found that each horse that suffers from the pain of laminitis needs to be sized up individually before deciding on what trimming and shoeing techniques make the most sense.
To gather dozens of field-tested ideas for dealing with laminitis, we surveyed a number of horseshoers and equine veterinarians. Hopefully, you can put some of the treatment ideas that follow to good use the next time you’re called out to deal with a laminitic horse.
I use Steward clogs, dental impression material, cotton, Equicast and black wound dressing
Get More Laminitis Treatment IdeasAdditional field-tested tips from veteran farriers for dealing with laminitis can be found in “Laminitis: What You Need To Know.” This is an American Farriers Journal Special Hoof-Care Report that was mailed with the September/October 2011 issue. The 40-page report dealing with the latest laminitis findings can be purchased from the American Farriers Journal website.
with laminitic horses. I’ve used the wooden clog for 15 years and have yet to find a horse where it does not work.
The dental impression material supports the back portion of the coffin bone, which stabilizes the coffin bone and stops further rotation. It also lets you load the back portion of the foot without placing too much pressure on the frog. For extra cushion, you can modify the wooden shoe with a leather pad.
Abscesses are handled with flush tubes and/or medicated packing (black wound and gauze). I’ll adjust the angle of the foot with a grinder to take pressure off the deep digital flexor tendon by moving the breakover back on the shoe.
No painkillers are given, so the horse can let you know if they like the treatment or not. When there is no pain due to drugs, the horse can cause more damage to the foot. With the wooden shoe, get their feet back under their body and relax.
— Troy Greenfield, Fredericksburg, Texas
I clean the foot out and disinfect the foot with alcohol and iodine. I’ve had a lot of successes with the heart bar shoe, as it helps stop rotation and provides posterior support along with improving comfort. I use a thinner Vector Special nail, which makes it easier on both the horse and the farrier when driving the nail.
I use Super Fast on the frog plate to get a true fit on the frog with the same amount of pressure. Then I use a pour-in pad, since all bar shoes are trash collectors and you don’t need thrush or an abscess to form in a laminitic horse.
— Justin Nevarez, Denver City, Texas
To effectively treat laminitis and founder, you have to learn to be a good observer, an ability that can only be gained by experience. This a more important tool to possess than all the bright and shiny tools or products that are available to treat this most serious foot disease. Yet prevention is still the most effective treatment for laminitis.
Farriers must recognize that laminitis is a systemic disease that affects the whole horse. Some laminitic horses will not get well regardless of what we do, others will get better despite what we do and still others will improve because we did the right things.
Although we are fortunate to have steel and aluminum heart bar shoes manufactured in various sizes, the principles of treatment are more important than the products. Regardless of the product, you must gain the clinical confidence needed to successfully treat this condition. Foot preparation and shoe application is often very specific to an individual and different for each horse.
Until farriers gain experience and have success working on laminitic horses, they should work with someone who has the needed experience to work on these complicated cases.
Horsemanship skills — as well as mechanical ability — are required to successfully treat foundered horses. Farriers need to develop the confidence to quickly apply what is needed to return these horses to soundness rather than having them end up as pasture ornaments. Until farriers trust their abilities to do the job rapidly and effectively, they should refer the laminitis cases they encounter in their daily practice to those who have had success. Clients should also expect to pay more for the work of these specialists.
Judgment is required when treating these cases, and it’s difficult to teach judgment. Wisdom comes from making good choices, and we usually learn to make good choices by first making bad choices and suffering the consequences.
— Doug Butler, Crawford, Neb.
I’m a fan of heart bar shoes with laminitic horses, having worked on a number of cases with Burney Chapman in the 1980s. I’ve tried a number of different procedures over the years, but keep coming back to the heart bar. I normally apply a rim pad between the shoe and foot to keep a dropped sole farther away from the ground.
My pad of choice is a #2 Farrier’s Pride pad cut to match the rim of the heart bar. When the rim pad is riveted to the shoe, the pad does not move, buckle, wear out or over stress the nails during movement.
One of the best things I have found for treating abscesses or seromas caused by laminitis is a mixture of betadine and sugar packed into the wound. It speeds healing, kills any infection and toughens the weakened laminitic sole.
I’ve seen the Nolan Hoof Plate used on a few horses and the concept makes sense since it stabilizes the hoof capsule. While the recommended 16 weeks of application without trimming bothers me, it might be effective over a shorter period of time.
— Barry Denton, Skull Valley, Ariz.
I use heart bars to stabilize the coffin bone and rely on slim shank nails to protect the fragile hoof wall. Lily pads are used to support the opposite foot. Leather pads are placed under the heart bar shoe if the sole has dropped. But avoid placing them over the coffin bone region.
Equi-Pak Soft is used to fill in the back half of the hoof. Don’t let it reach farther than 1/2-inch behind the point of the frog in order to absorb concussion or shock when the bone is rotating.
— Shaun Beveridge, Romsey, Australia
With the acute phase of laminitis, get a good vet involved as soon as you can, provide deep bedding in a small stall and offer some form of frog support. Don’t try to nail a shoe on a foot when the horse is in severe pain. At that point, any pressure is magnified and nailing will be torture. Trim the hoof properly to make sure there is nothing found past the frog to put pressure on the sole. Then tape or glue something like a Lily pad to the foot.
The position of the hoof capsule is not a good indicator of the location of the coffin bone. When trimming a chronically foundered foot, determine where the coffin bone is located and trim to the palmar and dorsal angle of the coffin bone.
Radiographs are great if they are available. If not, a crescent bruise on the sole, the width of the white line, spacing of the growth rings, depth of the commissures, strength of the bars, overall health of the frog and your own experience will help you know where to trim. This generally involves lowering the heels and backing up the toe on the frontal plane, while doing nothing to the sole in front of the frog where sole depth is lacking.
— Chris Gregory, Lamar, Mo.
Once lameness symptoms appear, there are four treatments for laminitis that have been proven by a controlled study to work:
- Resection (Peremans 1991).
- Horizontal dorsal wall grooving (Ritmeester 1998).
- Deep, soft footing (Hood 1981).
- DMSO (Said 1992).
I believe grooving is just as effective as a resection, while being less invasive.
— Henry Heymering, Frederick, Md.
I shoe with another farrier in Ontario and the product we find most useful with laminitic horses is the Myron McLane full support pad. Even so, we often alter this pad by grinding down one or both sides of the wedge, while leaving the frog support intact.
At other times, we add an epoxy to the frog support for better contact. I’ve been apprenticing for about a year, and I have never seen the Myron McLane pads not drastically improve the comfort of the horse and condition of its feet.
The best results seem to happen with pour-in packing, although many of our clients don’t want to spend the extra money. We tell clients they can go without the packing as long as they pick out the feet every day.
— Carmen Theobald, Ontario
As a farrier, I don’t believe in getting involved in areas that are best served by the veterinary medicine profession. However, I believe farriers can be a great help in dealing with the mechanical aspects of any kind of lameness.
It’s very important to keep a laminitic horse comfortable, which will encourage them to exercise and keep the blood supply moving. Keep the hoof angles as close to normal as possible, remove excess heel and protect the bottom of the foot from pressure and bruising.
— Walt Koepisch, Benton, Pa.
Most of the time laminitis goes undetected for a period of time, as it is often confused with colic and a number of high fever illnesses. The first thing to check is whether the horse is keeping pressure off the toes in the front feet, the front feet are forward or he is not willing to stand on them.
The most important tools you have are your eyes and hands to feel and see the condition of the laminitic horse. Time is a major factor and the sooner you can get to work on the problem, the better chance you have of helping the horse.
— Bob Peacock, Hamilton, Ohio