Founder is a serious condition in horses. It affects the hoof, and involves laminitis (separation of the laminae in the hoof) and the rotation of the coffin bone. Founder usually affects both front feet but can also involve the hind feet.
Symptoms of Founder in Horses and Ponies
Typically the horse will stand with its front feet slightly further ahead of its body and will hold more weight over its hind feet. Since horses normally carry most of their weight on their front feet this pose will look odd. The horse may seem to shift on its front feet, and will lay down more often.
When the hoof is picked up and examined the outer hoof may appear to have more growth ridges. The bottom of the hoof will have a dark line indicating the separation. A farrier can also make a diagnosis from looking at the bottom of the hoof.
In some horses the neck may also get cresty (much like a stallion’s neck).
The horse will have a short, choppy, gait, particularly at the trot, and will not want to walk on hard ground.
The coat may become curly or wavy (not to be confused with Bashkir Curly horses naturally curly coat).
How to Care for a Foundered Horse
There are many causes of founder but one of the most common is diet. A horse eating a lush pasture or with a big grain ration is not going to get better. As such the first course of action is to remove the horse from the lush pasture and to restrict its grain ration. The horse should be kept in a dirt pasture or one with poor quality grass. The horse should be put on a grass hay diet.
If the horse cannot be moved off the grass and the pasture is lush, then a few sheep should be purchased to keep the pasture controlled. Hair sheep are the ideal for this as they require less maintenance, however it is important the fence is able to contain sheep, and mineral blocks containing copper (toxic to sheep) are not used.
The horse should be exercised regularly, at least taken for a walk. It should be lunged at a trot if this is possible. Remember the horse will be sore but the exercise does help, do not exercise a horse to the extent you are hurting it more than helping.
Horses may benefit by having their feet soaked in cold water for 20 minutes once, or twice, a day.
Talk to the veterinarian about the use of bute or aspirin.
Talk to your farrier about corrective trimming or shoeing.
A horse with founder should not be stabled, it should be allowed to walk around as much as possible. If it must be kept in a stall for any length of time the stall should be well bedded (and never use black walnut shavings as they contribute to causing founder).
Article based on author’s experience owning horses with founder, as well as attending equine college for 2 years.