Springtime is wonderful. It is also the time to be on the look out for founder in horses. Here's what you need to know.
Symptoms of founder in horses
Early warning signs of founder in horses
Common causes of founder in horses
Simple nutritional supplements for founder
Our story of fully healing a "lost cause" foundered horse
When we think about Springtime, we envision beautiful flowers, longer days, sun-kissed mornings and plenty of fresh, green grass for grazing the horses. However, as horse owners we understand that for some, even a few minutes of access to what would seem like the perfect fodder for them can quickly turn into an excruciatingly painful nightmare for the horse, one that often culminates in euthanasia as the only means to end the misery.
The terms "laminitis" and "founder" are often used interchangeably. While laminitis is used to describe damage to the laminar connection between the hoof wall and the coffin bone and is a common cause of chronic lameness in horses, founder in horses occurs when damage to the laminar connection between the hoof wall and the coffin bone becomes severe and fails. It is the failure of the laminar bond that leads to separation, culminating in rotation and/or sinking of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule. This causes severe pain and can permanently damage hoof structure, contributing to a lifetime of unsoundness for the horse. If the rotation and sinking of the coffin bone is severe, the tip of the bone may penetrate through the sole of the hoof which is usually unrecoverable, leaving horse owners with few options other than to humanely end the horses’ suffering.
Certain horses—minis, ponies, and other easy-keeper breeds—are more prone to laminitis and founder than some of the hotter breeds, like Thoroughbreds, but any horse can fall victim to the devastating condition if the circumstances are right. The question often arises, what is it about freshly growing Spring grass that can bring on the laminitis that precipitates founder in horses? The answer lies in the high carbohydrate content of the grass and the horses’ inability to metabolize the sudden spike in blood glucose levels. The sustained sugar absorption from high carbohydrate levels in the grass results in a prolonged insulin response and causes insulin dysregulation in otherwise healthy, normal horses. Left unchecked, the end result may be a foundered horse.
Signs and Symptoms of Founder in Horses
- Sudden onset of lameness in one or more feet, usually the front;
- Resistance to walking or moving;
- A throbbing pulse and heat in the feet;
- Shifting weight back and forth between legs;
- Reluctance to bend the legs;
- Standing with legs camped out in front of the body or with all four legs under the body; and
- Laying down more frequently than usual with difficulty rising.
If your horse does founder and survive the initial assault, your stable management practices must now turn toward strict supervision and control of your horses’ diet and turn-out time, as well as meticulous, therapeutic hoof care. Sometimes, even with these measures, the best you can hope for is a pasture-sound horse, one who can no longer support the weight of a rider but is sound and comfortable enough supporting himself on a daily basis and is happy.
With a lot of hard work and dedication, I know it’s possible to successfully rehabilitate a foundered horse because I’ve done it myself. In 1995, my ten-year-old Arabian gelding, Kelidar, foundered in both front feet experiencing six degrees of rotation in both coffin bones. It was an unusually long, wet spring that year and conditions were ripe for foundered horses. My vet told me that he had already euthanized three horses on the island that month and he was dealing with laminitis and founder in a few others. With six degrees of rotation in both front feet, he told me that my sweet boy didn’t stand much of a chance for recovery and that the only humane thing to do was to end his suffering. The story of exactly how I was able to not just save my horse, but to bring him back to a state of total soundness with zero degrees of rotation in those coffin bones, is a story saved for another day. Suffice it to say that with intensive foot care, proper forage management and supplementation with metabolic-system supporting nutrients such as cinnamon, magnesium and chromium, Keli did go on to live a long, happy and, most importantly, completely sound life.
My research into founder in horses may have started with my horse, Keli’s diagnosis back in July of 1995, but the years since then have led me down the twisted path of metabolic disorders in horses and how these dysfunctions can set them up for chronic episodes of painful laminitis and founder that often prove fatal. In 1995 there weren’t a lot of answers to be found and I had to dig deep to uncover the truth. But my research did expose a greater reality surrounding the myriad of toxins in the environment and food supply that are at the root of, not just metabolic disorders, but most of the health challenges plaguing our horses and ourselves today. Join us for future blogs where I will share the products and methods I used to restore soundness and vitality in my horse, Kelidar after he foundered, and how I was able to set him up for a lifetime of soundness through the proper use of supplements and adjustments in basic care routines. We will also dive into this subject further by exposing the truths behind the connections between toxins in our environment and food supply and the endocrine system and protein synthesis disruption that is occurring in ourselves, horses and dogs and is, perhaps, the root cause of all disease.
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