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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Secretariat's Death by Laminitis, Revisited: The Night the News Anchors Learned About Laminitis

Secretariat's death announcement on local Virginia television news

Do you remember where you were on October 4, 1989? Maybe you hadn't even been born. Or maybe you still remember that feeling of loss, of stunned disbelief, that the horse to end all horses was no longer in a paddock somewhere in Kentucky.

We know so much more about laminitis now than we did then, but could Secretariat have been saved? We'll never know and it's futile to speculate.

Today we often hear about horses being euthanized during or after laminitis. The deaths are routinely reported in the narrow columns of The Blood-Horse, or the breed or sport organization publications.

No one issues a press release for a backyard pony. No one tallies up the toll of insulin-resistant Morgan horses at the end of the year. Death by laminitis makes us uneasy, we move on quickly, with lumps in throats as we wonder if our own horses could fall victim to the same fate. If Secretariat couldn't beat it, what horse could?

The pain is no less great for a little black pony or a portly pet horse than it was for Secretariat. In that sense, Secretariat was just like every other horse: he couldn't beat a disease with more zigs and zags than he had.

While researching today's article, I found some new footage I hadn't seen before, a montage of television news reports and a home video of Secretariat taken three days before he died.

First, this crackly video brings back the 1980s. See how the newscasters told the world about laminitis and the death of the greatest horse we'd ever known:

Study a dark day in horse racing history: how did each television network announce Secretariat's death? (8 minutes)


I suppose Secretariat is a bit like Elvis or Michael Jackson. He is larger than life, even after death-- just as he was when he lived. His death cast a long shadow on every horse who has had severe laminitis since: "This is the disease that killed Secretariat, don't feel badly if we have to euthanize your horse."

How many times have veterinarians used some variation on those words to prepare horse owners for potentially bad news?

But here's one the newscasters didn't see that night. Here's Secretariat on one of his last days. And a home video, no less. Three days before he became a statistic, just like the others. On this day, he was still the greatest racehorse in recent American history, still our horse, and still invincible. People still came to see him, and stood in awe, even if he was about to lose the biggest challenge of his life.

So Secretariat: the horse of the people was last captured on film not by a network news crew, but on home video, by just plain fans

We all like to remember Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, but let's not forget the disease that took him. If you possibly can, please donate to laminitis research today in memory of Secretariat, or make plans to attend the Sixth International Equine Conference on Lamintiis and Diseases of the Foot, to be held October 29-31 in West Palm Beach, Florida to learn more about what can and will be done to stop this disease.

Consider clicking on the donation button at the Animal Health Foundation's laminitis research page.

Do it for the horse we loved to love, and for every horse before or since that has known the pain of this terrible disease. Do it for the horses of the future who might be able to bypass laminitis altogether, with your help.