What it is

Also called laminitis, founder is an inflammation of the laminae of the hoof. Mostly the front hooves are affected, but in sever cases all four feet may get it. It is very painful to the horse.


A lot of things may cause founder, but here are some of the most common types of founder, and causes:

1. Grain Founder
A horse that gets excess feed, or gets into a grain bag and gorges itself may develop founder. All grains may cause founder, but the most likely are barely, corn, and wheat.

2. Grass Founder
A horse that graze rich pasture, like legume pastures, may develop grass founder. Ponies and fat horses are more likely to founder from rich feed than horses in normal weight.

3. Water Founder
When an overheated horse drinks water, in is very likely to come down with colic, but some horses may get founder instead. If water is frozen over or very cold, a horse may not drink until its thirst becomes almost unbearable. Then, the horse may break the ice and suddenly consume sever gallons of cold water. This is very likely to cause colic and/or founder.

4. Road Founder
When a horse is worked on hard ground, they can founder. Long rides in horse trailers without cushioning flooring may also cause road founder.

5. Postparturient Founder
After a mare foals, if the uterus retains some of the membranes that surround the foal, founder can occur. A uterine infection is also likely to develop.

6. Other Causes:
Founder may occur in horses that are under stress. Hormonal imbalances may induce it, and mares with abnormal or extremely prolonged heat cycles may become foundered.

Some drugs may cause founder.
Black walnut shavings may cause sever founder, so do not ever use any shavings containing black walnut wood as a bedding.
Horses that must stand in the same position without much excesses will usually develop founder. The reason for this is the legs get no rest and can become sore. Also, the horse with little exercise may become fat enough to put extra strain on the hooves. Stalled horses should have exercise every day, and those that are given little should have their feed carefully monitored. Sea faring horses are a good example, they get little exercise so they must be fed less than a horse that is ridden every day. Premarin mares, which are given a lot of food and little exercise, are extremely susceptible to founder, and it has been reported that many of them go lame.
A horse with a sever leg injury may develop founder in the other legs, if they put enough weight on them.
Some large-bodied or fat horses with small feet may come down with founder. Some halter horses, which are usually very fat, get founder because their feet are too small to support the huge, abnormal weight. Some horses may inherit tiny feet, and therefore be likely to develop founder.


Acute Laminitis:

Early on, the horse's trot may be stilted, and as the condition worsens, the walk too may be stilted, and the horse will be reluctant to move. He may stand with his hind feet up under his body, to take weight off the front end. The front feet too may be set forward. Over the fetlock joint, a throbbing pulse may be felt, and the hooves will usually warm or hot. The sole of the hoof will be really tender and painful, especially near the point of the frog. Anxiety and muscular trembling due to pain will probably be seen. The horse's temperature and respiratory rate will increase, and membranes may turn a brownish color. In grain founder, symptoms may not occur until 12-18 hours after horse has eaten feed, and diarrhea will probably develop. Rotation of the coffin bone may occur in sever cases only 12 hours after injury or ingestion of grain has occurred.
Death is rare, but not unknown.

Chronic Laminitis

Downward rotation of the coffin bone is usual, and in sever cases it may even push through the sole of the hoof, usually resulting in euthanasia of the horse. Rapid growth of the hoof wall is caused by chronic laminitis, and the horse's hooves may grow to be over 12 inches long, with a huge bend and a 'melted' appearance. Huge ridges will form on the hoof due to inflammatory changes at the coronet band. Affected animals will be in pain, and stand as mentioned above, to relieve themselves of some pain. Pulse and heat can be felt around the fetlock, and will show pain if tested with hoof testers. It is usually difficult to determine the cause of the founder.

Treatment of Acute Laminitis

If you suspect your horse has founder, call the vet IMMEADIATELY. Failure to do so may result in permanent damage to the horse, or even death.
If you find your horse foundered in a pasture, DO NOT move him if he won't agreeably go! Moving a foundered horse may worsen the problem and cause the coffin bone to rotate.

The treatment will vary depending on severity and type of founder.
Grain foundered horses will usually be given a laxative or mineral oil. Don't feed the horse bran or any other slow-acting laxative in hope that it might work. Get your vet to treat the horse!
Antihistamines and pain relieving drugs are usually given. Corticosteroids are not recommended, because they have been shown to cause laminitis. Oral antibiotics may be used also, to help kill the bacteria that are producing endotoxins in the horse's digestive tract.

If a horse is going into shock from the pain, the vet may give intravenous fluids. Standing the horse in a cool stream or mud may relieve pain temporarily, but isn't a good idea because it slows the circulation, the opposite of what needs to happen. Soaking the hooves in warm water will help more by expanding the blood vessels and increasing circulation.

Allow the horse to lie down if he wishes.

Shoes should be removed, but only if the feet can be picked up without too much discomfort to the horse. If not, the nails may be cut with a sharp chisel or a hoof nipper, but DO NOT ever hammer on the horse's hoof unless the nerves have been blocked! Hammering on a foundered foot is a horrible form of torture, and not only will it be unbearably painful to the horse, it will only make the laminitis worse.

Your vet may prescribe mild exercise after painkillers have been administered, to help circulation. Grain should be eliminated from the horse's diet, and other oral drugs might be administered.

Other founders may be treated in other ways, but the most important thing to do is contact a vet as soon as possible.

Treatment of Chronic Laminitis

If rotation has occurred and the coffin bone has penetrated the sole of the hoof, usually nothing can be done. If the horse is restored, it probably will use all usefulness, but may be able to breed. Because of this, everything must be done to prevent the coffin bone from protruding. Chronic founder should be treated with regular care. The hooves should be trimmed as normally as possible, and much more often than normal. Frequent trimming helps keep the toe from growing too long, which would throw the foot off balance.

Corrective shoes may be needed, and the hoof might need to be shaped in such a way as too take pressure off of the coffin bone and to help prevent penetration.

Weight control is very important. Fat horses have less of a chance of recovery than normal weight. The more weight the horse is carrying, the more pressure on the hooves. Many foundered horses must have their diets controlled for the rest of their lives.


Horses with founder may or may not recover fully to be useful again. Some will only recover enough to be used as broodmares. If symptoms persist for more than ten days, full recovery is unlikely. With some founders, such as those associated with hormonal imbalances, may last for more than a year without causing much pain or abnormalities to the hooves. Rotation of the coffin bone is unfavorable. If it penetrates the sole, it is unlikely the horse will recover, as infections of the laminae will probably result.




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