Pepper: A laminitis case study

In the rehabilitation process from laminitis, things often seem to get worse before they get better. Let’s take a walk through Pepper’s journey from pasture ornament to competitive riding horse!

Pepper is a 17-year-old registered Appaloosa mare. She lived out on pasture for her first eight years, pretty much enjoying the good life with no expectations or demands being made on her. At the age of eight, Pepper started training to become a pleasure riding horse. In 2008, when she was nine, she was purchased by her now “mom” and moved to a small boarding facility. Here, Pepper began living the traditional boarded horse life of stall confinement at night, with daytime turnout and grains.

Pepper goes lame

A year later, Pepper was trimmed by a new farrier because lameness issues arose. Her hooves were flared and she was sore on both front feet, particularly after trims. Even light hacking became difficult for poor Pepper as she continued to seek the soft shoulder on the side of the road.

Eventually she was shoed. The shoes appeared to give her some relief, but that only lasted about six months before she became lame again. By that point, Pepper was severely lame and her owner had the vet out to take x-rays. The vet felt she had injured her deep flexor tendon in her right foot. In December of 2010, Pepper was still lame and her vet suggested six months of stall rest.

By July of 2011, there was no improvement and Pepper’s situation was deteriorating — she was completely unrideable. There were mornings where Pepper could barely walk out of her stall because of the tremendous pain she was in. At this point, the vet recommended that she be retired to pasture. In September of the same year, Pepper was relocated to a new farm where she was put in a field 24/7 to live out the rest of her life.

Is this cycle starting to sound familiar?

Laminitis and founder

It was here that Pepper foundered, and where I first met her. I knew immediately that this mare was suffering from laminitis and had finally succumbed to founder. She required drastic intervention. According to Katy Watts of, there are several levels of laminitis, moving from mild to moderate to severe, and finally to founder. Pepper was giving off all the signs of laminitis over the last few years, but they had not been acknowledged.

Notice the huge canker and deep crack at the back of the frog, which was full of infection.

Fortunately for Pepper and her owner, there was a spot at a farm close to home that could accommodate her special needs. In October of 2011, she was relocated and placed into our rehabilitation program. Pepper was taken off all sugars, which included sweet feed, whole grains, processed feeds, grass and carrots. She was placed in a Paddock Paradise with a small herd where she had to forage for low-sugar grass hay, and she was fed other foods like Timothy Balance hay cubes, ground flax and probiotics. She was given access to free choice minerals and salt.

A scary time for all

It was at the rehabilitation farm that things really started to change for Pepper, both for the good and the bad. Between the months of October and December, poor Pepper abscessed many times and was very sore on all four feet, at times barely able to move. Her body was going through a serious detoxification. In the words of C. Sullivan, “What goes in the mouth and system comes out the hoof.” To help her through this difficult time, she was given white willow bark for pain relief instead of Bute, was booted with pads and trimmed every three weeks, and allowed to move constantly
at her own pace. Her owner and facility manager persevered with
daily hoof soaks and fresh pads in her boots.

After lots of hard work and perseverance, Pepper’s feet are now healthy and strong.

Pepper continued to abscess, lost a lot of weight, and her parasite load tests continued to come back as heavily infested. Throughout all this, she never lost her sweet disposition. Finally, by March of 2012, Pepper began to improve. In June, she developed a horrible canker in a back hoof. It was as if her body was finally ridding itself of the last of the toxic overload she had been suffering from over the years, and her immune system was on the mend.

Back to good health

By July, she was being ridden barefoot in the ring, and in boots with pads on the road while hacking. She continued to improve. Today, Pepper still lives in a Paddock Paradise with her now long-time friends. She goes on two- to four-hour hacks over paved roads, forest paths and fields with no trouble. She has gone back to jumping and enjoys many hours of long distance trail riding. She is never sore after a trim and has had no lameness since March of 2012. She celebrated her seventeenth birthday on April 5 of this year.

Pepper now has beautiful healthy feet that she and her mom can be proud of.