Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Secretariat's Death by Laminitis, Revisited: The Night America 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.

It took a disease as powerful and mysterious as laminitis to bring him down.

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.

story by Fran Jurga
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 other 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 furry little 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. How many veterinarians have consoled owners with the assurance, "This is the disease that killed Secretariat, so 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 painful days he must have had before the owners decided to end his suffering. If you possibly can, please donate to laminitis research today in memory of Secretariat.

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.


Anonymous said...

Probably the only time Dan Patrick talked about horse racing...

As for Secretariat, I never was pleased that Claiborne let Big Red get fat (which most certainly did not help his lamintis condition).

Anonymous said...

Never was pleased that Claiborne let Big Red get fat (which I am sure did not help his lamintis condition).

Probably the only time Dan Patrick talked about horse racing...

Robin said...

Seems amazing he was running around but days later gone.
Great video.

Robin said...

Seems amazing he was running around and then gone only days later.
Great video.

David said...

Thanks for the video! Amazingly, I have not see it before.

Anonymous said...

I saw this awhile back on Youtube. I think Secretariat looks very handsome and well-groomed. But after I watched the whole thing, I just sobbed! I can watch anything else about him, but I cannot bring myself to watch this or hear them talk about the fact that he's gone. I just love Secretariat, and although he's been gone for some time, he is still an inspiration and will always retain a certain mystique that only those beings phenominally gifted by God possess. I am so glad to find out about the laminitis foundation. I will definitely make a donation, and I will be so happy when one day a cure is found. God bless all creatures of the Earth!

Lisa Kemp said...

Fran, your article gave me goosebumps. Well-written as always, and with great 'extras' you've dug up to share with us. Thanks for this.

Fran Jurga said...

Thanks for your comment, Lisa--and everyone! I have to give Secretariat a lot of credit--all these years later, I am still finding new stories to write about him and he still inspires me, especially every October when I realize it is the anniversary of his death, a day I will remember as clearly as the day he won the Triple Crown.

As it turned out, Secretariat's laminitis would be much more meaningful in my life than any race he ran.

But I still have to say: what a horse.

Anonymous said...

The condition takes its victims so quickly at times. Barbaro was scheduled to leave the New Bolton hospital within days and continue to re-hab when he took a turn for the worse and was euthanized on Jan 29, 2007. His loss had a profound impact on me, and I blog with many of his fans and all of us donate to laminitis research at the PA university. We traveled to the unveiling of Barbaro's bronze memorial at Churchill Downs in April 2009 for an emotional day of reflection. In the week before the Kentucky Derby, a team of the same fans travel to the memorial to clean/wax the statue to make it shine for the special race day. Laminitis is a most cruel scourge and will hopefully find beneficial treatment and cure in the near future.

Nuschler said...

Barbaro did NOT die of laminitis.

Barbaro died the day of the Preakness when he fractured three bones in his lower leg. Barbaro's injuries were life-threatening. Unlike other mammals, such as dogs, a horse cannot survive in humane circumstances on three legs. A broken leg in a horse can lead to complications as the other legs attempt to bear the weight of the horse’s body.

No, Barbaro died because his owners had a lot of money and not much sense. That horse had to endure months of painful rehab, developed back leg laminitis BECAUSE he couldn’t stand on four legs...then they worked on that leg..”healed” it then Barbaro developed laminitis in both front hooves. It was ridiculous...People sending “Get well” notes and flowers to a horse...when that horse should have been put down on the track the first day he was injured.

It was one of the cruelest exhibitions I’ve seen in 70 years. It’s a shame that the lead vet couldn’t stand up to the owners.

Absolute cruelty. It is NEVER easy to euthanize an animal...but animals don’t understand that pain “may” lead to getting better. They live in the present...and Barbaro hurt every hour that he “lived” after the Preakness in May.

John Bezik said...

Good point, secretariat should not have been allowed to get fat. A horse with his genetic makeup needs to be exercised daily. He loved his workouts.

Anonymous said...

It seems strange that it's never been said that he foundered. His coffin bone had turned too far downward into the hoof capsule. Extreme laminitis always precedes founder, but laminitis, inflammation of the lamina, and/or its causing separation from hoof wall to hoof sole, and, in more critical cases, from hoof wall to coffin bone,is common to some degree in most horses. I also notice that he's being allowed to graze on very green grass - something that's near poison to a laminitic horse. Several years after Secretariat's death there was a great deal more information concerning laminitis and founder treatment, that might have given him many more years.

Unknown said...

Laminitis is causes by three main things, 1: a horse given too much water when hot and sweaty, 2: A horse given too much grain at one feeding 3: A horse allowed to be come very obese without exercise. Laminitis effects the blood vessels in the feet causing the soul to drop and the coffin bone to drop, it also causes stiff shoulders because of the short strides the horse takes, man can prevent this from happening if he care's about his horse, do not let your horse freely drink when hot and sweaty, do not over feed hot feed's and grains and do not let your horse get obese !!!, I loved Secretariat, he was miss managed after his racing career, laminitis comes only from three things usually, take care horse owner's.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Joycelyn Sealey. One of the Google Searches I made before finding this blog was, 'did Secretariat die sad.' My instincts have always said Secretariat was neglected in the end. I find the mismanagement of such a being so painful I can hardly understand it.


Jan said...

I saw what happened to Ruffian when he was racing "on a broken leg", then Secretariat. They're bred to run & loved it. It breaks my heart that there weren't smart people untrusted with such beautiful creatures, to them it was greed, in the end the great horses paid the price. RIP,. Ruffian & Secretariat

Robin Walker said...

After watching the movie made on Secretariat, I just had to find out why he died. First thing I thought of when I saw he died at only 19 was that someone was not taking good care of this precious, one of a kind being. After looking up all the information on Laminitis, I was sure neglect was the reason Secretariat died, it was painful to read this. Even though more is known now about this disease, surely, they
knew enough back then to monitor his food in take, and about giving him proper exercise, etc., to prevent this outcome. I also wonder if upon finding out he had Laminitis, did they even TRY to stave off the ravages of this disease? This amazing horse should not have been allowed to die in this way. Very, very sad.

Jojo said...

You should give them the benefit of the doubt. It was a long time ago. People didn't know near as much as they do now. There were not the meds that we have now. I had one colic this year that was on the same pasture she had been on for years, getting the same feed, and was well cared for. Perfectly fine in the morning and by evening feeding being euthanized.