The Latest on Supporting-Limb Laminitis

Since Barbaro’s death due to supporting-limb laminitis more than a decade ago, researchers have made great strides in understanding it, why it develops, how to treat it, and more.

Since Barbaro’s death more than a decade ago, researchers have made great strides in understanding SLL, why it develops, how to treat it, and more. | Photo: Sabina Louise Pierce/UPENN
In 2007 the horse world mourned after learning that Barbaro—winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby who suffered multiple fractures in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later—had been euthanized. It wasn’t the fractures that caused his demise, however. It was the progression of a painful complication in the opposite limb that developed long after the bones had been repaired: supporting-limb laminitis (SLL).

Barbaro’s story brought this often-fatal condition to the forefront of many equestrians’ minds. His struggles also brought laminitis researcher Andrew van Eps, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, back from his native Australia in 2016 to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet), in Kennett Square, to further his research. He was a resident when the colt stayed at the hospital in 2006 and early 2007.

Since Barbaro’s death more than a decade ago, van Eps and other researchers have made great strides in understanding laminitis, why it develops, how to treat it, and more. At the 2017 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Nov. 17-21 in San Antonio, Texas, he reviewed veterinarians’ current understanding of SLL and what remains to be learned.

“Despite significant recent advances in our ability to treat complicated fractures and other painful limb conditions in horses, supporting-limb laminitis remains a primary limiting factor to treating these cases,” said van Eps, now an associate professor of equine musculoskeletal research at Penn Vet. “Although the severity and duration of lameness are considered risk factors, the development of SLL is still unpredictable, both in terms of timing and also with respect to which cases will succumb to it.”

Researchers have considered multiple possible mechanisms for SLL development, he said, such

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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