Secretariat was examined by the best around in 1989 and frankly advances in medicine and/or shoeing haven’t change that much although detection of the disease has improved a little bit. I truly doubt however after it set in that the Hancock family would have changed their ultimate decision.
There are multiple causes and I don’t recall ever there being a determination as to “the culprit” for Secretariat. He suffered and was humainly euthanized due to complications from laminitis. The cause of laminitis …
The cause of almost all laminitis is poor digestion. When food is not broken down properly in the hindgut of a horse, acids and toxins are produced which leak into the body and damage blood vessels and organs throughout the body. When blood vessels and cells that feed the feet are affected in this way the amount of blood flowing down to the sensitive laminae is reduced and they become swollen. (Some alternative theories also suggest that toxins more importantly affect horn growth and that these are the cause of most laminitis). Swelling or inflammation of laminae means that they cannot do their job of holding the pedal bone in place properly and this results in a lot of pain. As the situation gets worse and if the flow of toxins is not reduced then the laminae can be so damaged that the foot bone sinks right through the sole of the foot and the horse will have to be euthanased. When the foot bone sinks a little the pedal bone is said to have ‘rotated’.
The sort of food that causes laminitis is rich young spring grass with high levels of fructans. However rich grass can cause the problem at any time of year and even frosty grass in the winter can damage the digestion in the gut so much that the wrong sort of bacteria start to multiply and release toxins. Another cause of laminitis is the sudden ingestion of large amounts of cereal or concentrate feed. Large amounts of such rich food in the gut cause a lot of acid production and again encourage the growth of the wrong sort of bacteria
Food is not the only cause of laminitis however. An increasingly common cause of the disease is a hormonal imbalance called Cushings Disease. In addition any infection in the body might produce enough toxins to damage the blood vessels and thus cause laminitis. Womb infections after foaling are a particularly well-known example of this cause of laminitis. In addition pounding of the feet can cause sufficient damage to the laminae to cause laminitis. This form of the problem is called concussion laminitis. Stress can also make horses more likely to get laminitis and any other disease.
Dr. Ric Redden has been the foremost expert on the subject in the US. His clinc, Equine Podiatry Center in Lexington is pretty amazing. A close friend of a friend is a co-owner of it and I’ve had a chance to see their operations.
They offera Q&A on-line
Regarding Secretariat, Bill Nack his biographer perhaps one of his greatest admirers outside of Penny, wrote “Pure Heart” as well as other articles on him.
Just before noon [11:45 am actually] Secretariat was led haltingly into a van next to the stallion barn, and there a concentrated barbiturate was injected into his jugular. Forty-five seconds later there was a crash as the stallion collapsed. His body was trucked immediately to Lexington, Ky., where Dr. Thomas Swerczek, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Kentucky, performed the necropsy. …
Secretariat was buried at dusk on Oct. 4 in the horse cemetery at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky.