April 15, 2009 | | Comments 1

Founder in Horses – The Spring Time Scourge

Whenever spring comes along, horse founder seems to the topic of choice and center of concern among horse owners. To some, founder is a severe condition, while to others, it is a brief annoyance when their horse appears to be sore in the feet for a couple of weeks. Regardless, treating founder is necessary, especially when it is “the season” and if you want the best for your horse and its overall health.


The most apparent indication of horse founder is lameness. This is not the usual lameness where the horse is bobbing its head and limping on one foot. Founder in most cases affects both front feet at one time, and very occasionally, all 4. In the initial phase of the condition, the horse will apply weight to various parts of its body at various points in attempts to alleviate pain. The pain becomes more harsh, and the horse will attempt to shift its weight towards the back by lengthening its front feet and nearly sitting on its hind legs. If all 4 feet are affected, it may almost sit down in an emphasized manner and may even lie on the ground, unwilling to stand up.

Indications of Founder in the Horse Hoof

Indications of Founder in the Horse Hoof

Other indications include an obvious warmth to the exteriors of the foot, an emphasized digital pulse, and a heart rate that is beyond 50. When the vet is present, he or she will analyze the horse’s temperature. He or she may also utilize hoof testers to establish if the pain is localized. With horse founder, a horse will have a positive outcome from test results with hoof testers over the whole foot rather than in any one specific location. Once a precise diagnosis has been established, the root problem of horse founder will be talked about between owner and veterinarian.

Treatment And Prevention

In treating founder, also be careful in introducing your horse to lush green pasture if it has been consuming hay all winter. A horse that is given access to grass as it shows up will be introduced naturally and gradually.

Contact the vet right away if you think your horse is foundering. It is essential to take action immediately. Take away all grain and hay from your horse if that is deemed as the main cause of founder in your horse. Wash the affected hoof with frigid water for about 20 minutes as you anticipate the vet’s arrival. You may also try employing a mud poultice or positioning your horse in a shallow, muddy pool. These methods may alleviate pain while waiting for professional assistance. Put your horse in a soft, heavily bedded stall and motivate it to lie down so that pressure can be alleviated. Employ a painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug upon the recommendation of a vet. Speak with your farrier about appropriate shoeing, minimize your horse’s physical activity and discuss treatment options with your vet.

Since diet is highly associated with the risk of founder, owners can play a large role in preventing and treating founder. If you feed grain, studies have indicated that feeding lower amounts of carbohydrate and higher amounts of fat type feed can help minimize the risk of founder. Also, think about minimizing your grain ration and raising the amount of forage you give your horse.

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  1. One of the biggest aggrivants of founder and laminitis is improper trim. A well balanced hoof (one where the sole depth is the same at the heel as at the toe) with frog contact on the ground will have far less chance of suffering from the influx of fructan in spring grass, first cut hay, or even an overdose of grain. If the hoof has been in a compromised state already, ie: high heel and long toe or excessive flaring due to improper/infrequent trimming, then the laminae are already under strain. The toxic effect of the sugar overload immediately renders those laminae almost useless….and thus any torque on them due to improper mechanics (toe first landing) and hoof imbalance (like you see in the hoof pictured….HIGH HEEL!) will cause the hoof capsule to be rotated around the coffin bone, pointing it into the sole and causing much pain/suffering.
    Spring rain also affects the hoof (softening it) and mud that is usually prevalent at that time further causes issue with proper frog stimulation/circulation……which in itself can make a horse tender on hard/stony ground.

    This also happens at a time when most people (like me) who have been waiting all winter to really get going riding/training again…..stressing a potentially weakened unbalanced hoof.

    Paying attention to how your horse stands when he eats, the ease in which you can pick up each hoof (weighting the opposite hoof fully can sometimes tell you if the horse is sensitive but not showing signs of being off yet.)

    By the time they are almost perforating sole (like the hoof above) you are beyond just a week of rest and changes in diet/environment to help reverse. I send out reminders to my clients about keeping appointments close together, taking time to maintain a dry environment and low sugar diet in the spring to counter and flux in forage content.

    Hoof boots and pads can greatly help you get a horse through an early stage of laminitis. In severe cases it may be necessary to glue on a composite (flexible) shoe to get the horses mobile so he can start to heal the damaged laminae. Owners have the power to control diet and are responsible for frequent correct trimming by their farrier/trimmer. It should never have to get to this point.

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