Laminitis, a serious hoof condition that cripples many horses, can be caused by a number of different things. Ingestion of moldy feed, retained placentas in mares, and colitis or other gastrointestinal tract infections are only a few of the scenarios that can result in inflammation that affects the sensitive tissues within the hooves. The result is pain, swelling, and disrupted circulation, often leading to untreatable tissue damage that eventually causes the horse to be humanely destroyed.
Managing laminitis is difficult because damage to the hoof structures has already taken place by the time the horse shows signs of pain. Therefore, recognizing the risk that laminitis could follow certain conditions is important. If the right measures are taken before the horse shows signs of discomfort, some equines can be spared the full-blown disease.
A century ago, horses that had gorged on grain, a common cause of laminitis, were taken to stand in a cold pond or stream for many hours. The treatment was successful, often preventing or lessening the severity of laminitis in the following days. The same principle is used today and is equally effective, though a different technique is used. Cryotherapy, or treatment with cold, can be done by standing the horse in very cold water or ice, or applying ice packs to the hooves.