Michael Sarno

First Class Farrier Service

Serving The Greater Phoenix Area  


Misalignment of dorsal wall

Normal looking coffin bone

Checking the pulse on a laminitic horse

Chronically foundered pony

X-Rays showing varying degrees of rotation

Horses suffering from acute laminitis


Laminitis has been a lifelong study of mine. I started building support systems for laminitic and chronically foundered horses in 1986. I also spent 7 years at Southwest Equine Hospital, Phoenix, Az, as their therapeutic farrier, from 1992-1999. 
I have helped hundreds of horses with this condition using various types of support systems. I have found that there are three types of laminitis, Mechanical, Metabolic, and Hormonal. All three types can be deadly if not treated as soon as the problem presents itself. The sooner the treatment, the better the overall outcome will be. I like to get the call within 1-2 days of the onset of laminitis, preferably the first day. When applicable, we can apply a proper support system and relieve the pressure off of the laminae and relieve the strain off the deep flexor tendon. When using these techniques, the horse’s recover time can be very quick. 

Mechanical Laminitis Mechanical laminitis starts when the hoof wall is pulled away from the bone or lost, as a result of external influences. Mechanical laminitis can occur when a horse habitually paws, is ridden or driven on hard surfaces or loses laminar function, owing to an injury affecting the hoof wall. Trimming a horse too short can also create mechanical laminitis. 

Metabolic Laminitis
Metabolic laminitis is usually bilateral (on two hooves) and although it can affect any number of hooves, it is most common in the front hooves. Some examples of metabolic laminitis could be caused from, colic, eating too much alfalfa hay, eating too much grain, simply the wrong diet, drinking too much water too quick after being worked hard.

Hormonal Laminitis
I have learned over the years that horses can have hormonal imbalances that can lead to laminitis. The mechanical changes in the hooves are the same as any other type of laminitis. The biggest challenge with this disease is bringing about hormonal balance within the horse. There can also be unpredictable re-accurring bouts that we still don't understand but continue to study.

Rotation, Sinking, and Founder Depending upon the severity at the onset of laminitis, there may be no movement of the coffin bone, rotation only, sinking only or a combination of both rotation and sinking, to varying extents. Normally, the front of the coffin bone is parallel to the hoof wall and its lower surface should be roughly parallel to the ground surface. A single severe laminitic episode or repeated less severe episodes can, depending upon the degree of separation of dermal and epidermal laminae, lead to either rotation or sinking of the coffin bone, both of which result in anatomical changes in the position of the coffin bone with visible separation of the laminae commonly known as Founder.

Rotation occurs when the damage to the laminae is less severe and it will show up mainly in the toe area of the foot. The degree of rotation may be determined by severity of the initial attack of by how soon laminitis is detected and how soon actions are taken to treat the horse. A combination of forces (e.g. the tension of the deep digital flexor tendon and the weight of the horse) result in the deep digital flexor tendon, literally pulling the dorsal face of the coffin bone away from the inside of the hoof wall, which allows the coffin bone to rotate. There are also ligaments attaching the collateral cartilages to the digit, primarily in the palmar portion of the hoof, possibly contributing to a difference in support from front to back. It is also theorized that the body weight of the animal contributes to rotation of the coffin bone. Rotation results in an obvious misalignment between the short pastern bone and the coffin bone. If rotation of the coffin bone continues, its tip can eventually penetrate the sole of the hoof. 

Sinking is less common and much more severe. It results when there is a significant failure of the interdigitation between the sensitive laminae results in the hoof wall becoming separated from the rest of the hoof. Pus may leak out at the white line or at the coronary band. In extreme cases this event allows the tip to eventually penetrate the sole of the hoof. It is generally agreed that a severe “sinker” warrants the gravest prognosis.

Founder Informal use of the word founder Informally, particularly in the United States, "founder" has come to mean any chronic changes in the structure of the foot that can be linked to laminitis. In some texts, the term "founder" is even used synonymously with laminitis, though such usage is technically incorrect. Put simply, not all horses that experience laminitis will founder but all horses that founder will first experience laminitis. 
Give me a call if your horse is suffering from laminitis or there is a need for good shoeing management with these types of horses. I usually start all these appointments out by first coming to the horse, taking a look, and doing an evaluation.