Main Founder Page
The difference between founder and laminitis
Laminitis is the inflammatory stage which leads to founder.
Founder is when the coffin bone has lost it's attachment and may have a deformed shape with a loss of concavity. Depending on the balance of the coffin bone within the hoof, the supportive measures that the owner takes, the horse can recover from laminitis. Recovery from repeated bouts of laminitis is more difficult and possibly impossible. Understanding the causes and removing them is key to preventing the damage of repeated laminitis and subsequent founder.
Laminitis is triggered by toxins. Some triggers are:
Sugars (in grass or grain) become toxic at high levels (turn to alcohol)
Allergies; food allergies or environmental
Vaccinations; multiple and certain vaccinations especially can trigger laminitis.
Equine metabolic syndrome and Cushings can predispose horses to laminitis.
Mechanical laminitis is when the horse has direct trauma to the lamina via a long hard gallop on a hard road (when unaccustomed to that).
If the laminitis occurs when the hoof is not balanced and healthy (barefoot and trimmed properly) or is shod, the horse can experience additional damage due to imbalance. Many shod hooves are trapped in an unbalanced state which does damage that subsequently predisposes the foot to greater damage from a laminitis event. Conventional founder treatments only "work" by squeezing the blood out of the corium with pressure from shoes and pads. It is only "managed". Just like squeezing your finger feels better after you slammed it in the door. But it doesn't actually heal the foot.
Holistic treatment of founder seeks to rebalance the hoof and encourage healthy laminar horn production so that the wall grows in a healthy balanced attachment. We try to keep the inflammation to a minimum by using cool water and supportive nutritional anti-oxidant and mineral therapy. We may also recommend homeopathic remedies like Arnica and Hypericum.
A horse can have a laminitis episode and walk out of it if they have relatively healthy balanced feet. We can't always protect our horses against toxins in their environment but we can prevent many of the triggers. Clover as well as other legumes have a chemical in them that can provoke an allergic reaction resulting in laminitis. A pasture can be treated to kill all clover.
A mare can have a retained placenta or a horse can have a toxic reaction to injected vaccines. Shod horse owners don't even notice when their horse has a mild laminitis episode but these episodes eventually cause damage and then something triggers a major inflammation. Then the diagnosis is usually founder, because by that time, the coffin bone has rotated away from the dorsal wall.
There is a huge difference with a natural hoofcare practioner's assessment of a founder and a conventional vet's assessment. The hoofcare practioner will trim the foot to rebalance the coffin bone and be sure that no excess bar causes pain. A conventional vet will usually advise drugs in the form of pain killers and anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) then suggest a farrier nail on wedge pads which tilt the coffin bone down and forward so that the blood in the lamina is squeezed out by pressure. This will help the horse experience instant relief. But it actually does further damage. The attending vet or farrier may resort to surgically removing the wall to the corium, letting the blood and pus escape, relieving the horse of the pain. (see x ray illustration)
When a hoofcare practioner sees that the coffin bone is not ground parallel, we call that "rotation without separation". When the attachment of the coffin bone is lost or poor and pain from bars and high heels cause the horse to walk on his toes, then we call that "rotation with separation". A vet's diagnosis of most foundered horses will be "rotation" in whatever degrees that they measure looking at an X-ray (see illustration x ray).
To the hoofcare person, this means the same as "rotation with separation". The vets do not consider it rotation unless the dorsal wall has separated and is no longer parallel with the dorsal surface of the coffin bone. The hoofcare person is going to trim the hoof so that the coffin bone is ground parallel so that the new hoof wall will grow in with a healthy attachment.
Conventional treatment with wedge pads tips the coffin bone up into the dorsal hoof wall.
We trimmers want to help the horse grow in a healthy attachment to the coffin bone by returning the coffin bone to ground parallel by trimming the bars and heels so the horse will comfortably weight his heels. This will help the toe lamina receive blood flow thru the coffin bone via the digital arteries. These arteries meet inside the coffin bone (transverse arch) and feed the smaller arteries exiting the dorsal surface of the coffin bone. When the heel is jacked up with high bars, heels and wedge pads, the coffin bone is pushed into the hard hoof wall pinching these arteries shut. The pressure on the arteries inside the coffin bone causes the openings to enlarge. This same pressure causes the openings for arteries in the navicular bone to enlarge too.
Blood flow is important to healing the damage and inflammation. The inflammatory fluid is made up of a lot of pus (dead white blood cells and cellular debris) and blood. This debris may be abscessed out. It can be a small abscess or so large it encompasses the whole hoof. By soaking and trimming for good flexibility, the hoof can reduce the damage and extent of the abscess and speed the maturation and exit.
Walking the horse on an unbalanced (not ground parallel) coffin bone causes damage to the bone. Too much walking, even on a ground parallel coffin bone with inflammed weak lamina, if the bone has sunk all the way to the bottom of the hoof capsule, is not good either.
Most successful rehabilitations of severely foundered horses happen in a hoof clinic where the horse is trimmed frequently and the surfaces are covered in rubber and level. Also if a horse has had so many laminitis episodes that his lamina are permanently stretched out and his coffin bone has dissolved to a greater degree, it is almost impossible to ever get them to become performance horses ever again. But they can become sound enough for some limited use. Getting an x-ray tells us how much coffin bone is left and whether it's even worth it to try if the goal is to have a performance horse.
Anyone that has horses should read Dr. Strasser's book, "Who's Afraid of Founder?"
Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)
If your horse is older than 10 or has had neglected or shod feet in it's life, it can potentially develop EMS. There is an excellent article in The Horse's Hoof magazine issue 47 by Marijke Van Der Water. This condition predisposes your horse to developing what amounts to a diabetes condition and results in laminitis. Specific remedies include (but are not limited to:
2. Diet change from high sugar grass to low sugar hay and no grain.
3. Stress reduction.
4. Good hoof care.
Cross-section thru founder foot
This cadaver foot has lost a significant amount of the coffin bone. You can see how stretched the laminar wall is and how close the transvers arch is to the sole. This horse, had it been alive, would have probably been too far gone to save for a useful life with corrective trimming.
Foundered coffin bone
This is a view from the front (toe) of the coffin bone and shows the loss of concavity. Compare it to the non-foundered coffin bone below, which still has concavity.
Concave coffin bone compared to foundered coffin bone (oblique solar view)
Foundered Coffin bone compared to normal coffin bone (lateral view)
Foundered horse's x ray
X ray of a 6 yr old that has foundered. It was treated conventionally with a resection of hoof wall on the dorsal surface. The coffin bone is seen tipped up (not ground parallel) and almost coming through the sole. Also seen clearly are the high bars and heel: a contributing cause to founder!
Horse in founder stance
(Photos courtesy of T. Couch) Shows the characteristic shifting of weight on to the hind quarters.
Photo below is 15 minutes after soaking, trimming by a hoofcare professional, and short walk to reduce congestion and pain in damaged corium.
Laminitis determination by X ray
A vet will measure the amount of deviation of the hoof wall from the coffin bone. The nail is taped to the hoof wall to determine this. But the worst thing about this picture is the nailed on shoe!
Natural Founder Treatment
1. Don't use drugs (NSAIDS, Bute, Betadine) Why? Although they will make your horse feel better, he may damage the foot more by walking too much. INSTEAD, use a natural inflammation method of cool water. Simple and it works! Homeopathics like Arnica, Belladona and Aconite can be used. also Rescue Remedy to reduce stress.
2. Allow the horse to lie down. This takes the weight off painful feet. But don't put him in a stall. Let him be with or in close proximity to his buddies on smooth ground.
3. Reduce all stress. Stress produces cortisol. Cortisol causes more inflammation.
4. Keep the hoof flexible with water and frequent trimming that is focused on a ground parallel coffin bone. Keep bars from causing pain by reducing them to the level that they don't.
5. Use anti-oxidents like CoQ10, MSM, Vitamin E, omega 3 (fish oil or Flax seed oil) and foods that are high in anti-oxidents like blue green algae, carrots, and oranges.
6. Tape pads to the soles. A variety of pads are available commercially or you can use some kind of firm foam.
7. Walk straight lines on smooth level ground a few minutes every hour for the first 48. If your horse doesn't walk a little himself to get water and hay, please help him do this.
8. Get x rays. Hopefully you can find a vet that will work with you on helping the horse get better without conventional "help". Don't let anyone cut the sole at the toe to let it bleed out the bad blood! I've seen farrier's do this on You Tube videos and it's horrible. Soak, walk, trim for mechanism and soak and walk some more.
Weight-loss during the laminitis event is normal, natural and advantageous. However, the horse does need nutritional support. Minerals (not mineral salt blocks) should be offered free choice. Reduce acid in the horse's system by feeding magnesium. A small amount of rice bran and ground-fresh flax seed can be mixed as a mash and given mixed with blue-green algae and plant-based enzymes. Good quality grass hay should be offered free-choice. NO COMMERCIAL SWEET FEED! There are some feeds specifically formulated for foundered horses but be sure to use common sense. Understand Equine Metabolic Syndrome feeding.
I like to prevent any histamine response which may occur in the spring and cause laminitis. I believe that many horses have allergies that manifest in laminitis. This histamine response to pollen or toxins in grass like clover, may trigger laminitis so in those horses that I know who are prone to have problems, I give them some anti-histamines. You can get them thru your supplement supplier.
In the fall, I have seen allergies to acorns. Acorns do contain toxins and horses love them so if you have oak trees in your pastures and don't prevent your horses from eating all they want, you might find your horse dealing with sore feet or worse. Acorns contain a substance called "gallotannin" which is metabolized into gallic and tannic acids. These acids in high concentrations cause ulceration of the mouth, esophagus, and gastrointestinal tract.
Tannic acid is especially toxic to the kidneys. In the fall, this substance concentrates in acorns and increases the risk of poisoning when acorns are ingested.
Founder cases (click on the name of the horse):
Jubilee and Sugar Two Tennessee Walkers with severe founder
Cody My Son's Pony
Noah Sub-clinical founder
Grace a foundered mare
NEW info to prevent laminitis from THH
Understand how Equine Metabolic Syndrome can lead to founder. For more info, go to www.thehorseshoof.com and look to subscribe to this fine publication.
X-ray of a severely foundered horse treated with conventional vet and farrier care
This is a photograph I took at a farrier and vet meeting. It is of a 6 yr. old mare that had a re-section of the toe wall by the vet and was being reshod. It was OBVIOUS to me what the mare's problems were. It's those honker bars visible on the xray and high heels not to mention serious contraction!!! There is no laminar connection of the coffin bone to the dorsal wall and the coffin bone can be seen to almost come through the sole of the foot. This is the "normal" treatment of founder by conventional farriery and veterinary methods. It does not return the hoof to health and eventually results in euthanasia.