Laminitis, also referred to as "founder," is an often devastating disease of the hoof that can cripple or kill afflicted horses. It’s such an important equine disease that each year veterinarians, farriers, and horse owners from throughout the United States gather at the International Equine Conference of Laminitis and the Equine Foot.

At the 2012 conference, held Nov. 2-3 in Monterey, Calif., Nora Grenager, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, of Grenager Equine Consulting in Middleburg, Va., presented an overview of laminitis and the anatomical structures of the hoof and lower leg that it affects.

The equine hoof is a complex anatomical feature that plays a critical role in horse health. "Hooves carry all the weight of the horse, yet are relatively small," Grenager said. "That means hooves need to be flexible, strong, and resilient."

And, in the healthy horse, a hoof is all of those things–the perfect structure to support and propel an athletic quadruped prey animal. However, when things go wrong in the hoof, they tend to go very wrong due to the complexity of the structure within the restrictive hoof capsule, Grenager said. Laminitis is one of those very big problems. It’s so big, in fact, laminitis is a leading cause of death in horses, second only to colic. And while not always fatal, 15% of all horses will suffer a bout of laminitis in their lifetimes.

To understand what laminitis is and how it affects the horse, it’s important to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the structures in play during a laminitic episode. With that in mind, Grenager outlined the hoof anatomy involved for the horse