Founder in Mares
"Sunny," my 12-year-old appaloosa mare, got into the grain the other night. The next morning she didn’t want to walk out of her stall. Our veterinarian examined her and said she had "foundered." Can you tell me what this means, and will I ever be able to ride her again?
Founder or laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive tissues within the hoof called laminae. There are many known causes of founder and some unknown as well. An overload of grain or carbohydrates, too much lush green pasture, repetitive work on hard surfaces, toxins in the bloodstream, and hormonal abnormalities are just a few of the most common known causes.
Whatever may trigger the problem, a series of complex metabolic reactions occur which cause abnormal and decreased blood flow to the horse’s hooves. This in turn causes damage to the sensitive tissues. Then the coffin bone, which is usually anchored in the hoof by the sensitive tissue, is able to move and can actually rotate or sink down in the hoof. In the worst possible case, the coffin bone can literally push through the sole of the foot. The inflammation causes a great deal of pain and many horses will not want to walk. Often they will stand with their front feet stretched out in front in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure. Frequently the feet will feel warm to the touch. If you suspect your horse has foundered, you need to call your veterinarian immediately.
Treatment for founder includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for pain and inflammation, medications to help restore normal blood flow to the feet, hoof pads placed over the frogs, heel elevators and corrective trimming and shoeing. Usually your veterinarian will want to take x-rays or radiographs of the feet to assess the degree of rotation of the coffin bone and to identify the best way to help your horse.
Depending on the severity of the founder episode, many horses can be managed with diet modifications and corrective trimming and shoeing. Many cases can be recurring or chronic, requiring long-term rest from training or riding. With a team effort, you, your veterinarian and farrier, have the best chance of helping your horse stay comfortable and usable. Early recognition is the key to a successful outcome.