Living with Founder

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price

William Moyer, DVM, is a farrier and veterinarian who offers guidance to horse owners suffering from the crippling hoof condition founder and laminitis.

Laminitis is unique among equine diseases. It is a complex series of events that cause the soft tissues (laminae), within the hoof, to swell and weaken, and it is very difficult to stop once it has begun. A severe case of laminitis can leave behind a permanent reminder: founder. This is an internal deformity that occurs when the laminae supporting the hoof loosen their grip and allow for the coffin bone’s downward rotation.

The past decade has seen many advances in research that have given us many insights into laminitis’ progression. Practitioners have used these insights to find more effective ways for horses to feel pain relief and to reduce the internal forces that can cause hoof problems. Even horses once considered to be lost cause have a chance of surviving laminitis. The condition is still a challenge to researchers, vets and owners who are tasked with caring for horses with laminitis.

Despite all the information available about founder and laminitis, there are still many questions. This is especially true when it comes to expectations of outcomes.

Living With Founder

William Moyer DVM, a veterinarian who has seen hundreds of horses with laminitis over the past 30+ years as a farrier, then as a veterinarian, says that “Laminitis” is one of the most complex diseases. He says that it is impossible to predict the future, even if you can do so a day ahead of time. This can lead to a devastating realization for anyone who cares for a foundered horse.

With the help of farriers and veterinarians, it is possible to make informed decisions about the care of a horse with a broken leg. Many times these decisions will be positive. Sometimes, however, even the best-planned course of action may not have any effect and there won’t be any rhyme or reason for it failing. Many feel frustrated when they have to make decisions about the long-term care of horses without any solid scientific data.

Moyer believes he has the best advice possible based on his experience of three decades. However, there are no concrete solutions to such situations. But owners don’t always want to hear what he has.

Moyer says, “All I can to do is try and prepare them for what may be a difficult road ahead.” This usually means taking an honest look at the owner’s expectations and the reality of the horse’s future and health. These are the four most common areas Moyer discusses with owners who want to do the best for their horse.

A Cause and a Cure The expectation To initiate treatment, it is necessary to determine the cause of a horse that has become ill.

The truth: Treatment is possible even if there’s no clear trigger or agent. Moyer states that horse owners have a strong desire to find out what caused the foundering. “But sometimes we won’t know why a horse founders.”

There are instances when the inciting event is clear and the treatment plan straightforward. A horse may develop laminitis after a colic operation or after consuming excessive amounts of grain. There are also cases where identifying the cause of laminitis could help prevent it from happening to other horses. If two horses are sickened on a farm within a few days of receiving a new shipment, it is worth ruled out black walnut toxicosis.

The cause of the condition can be difficult to determine in many cases. Although it is not directly related to horse management or health, it can be tempting to blame someone. Moyer said, “Sometimes I hear, “Oh, I just gave my horse deworming, so that must have caused it.” He points out that one incident doesn’t necessarily prove a causal connection. He says that a horse who develops laminitis from a single injection does not necessarily have to be harmed. It is important to avoid pointing fingers.

Only the best will do It is a matter of understanding as much information as you can about the options available to choose the best treatment for your horse.

The truth: There are many ways to treat a horse that is sick. One treatment may not work for every horse, and it is possible that a treatment will prove to be ineffective.

As your horse goes from painful laminitis or disabling founder, it’s important to be informed about the different management options and treatment options available. There are many opinions and options available to help maximize the comfort of a foundered horse. A few hours spent talking to your veterinarian, farrier and friends, reading magazines and textbooks and logging on to the Internet will yield volumes of worthwhile-and occasionally worthless-information. You’ll probably find yourself debating both the benefits and drawbacks to therapeutic measures that range from backward application to shoes, tendon cutting, or standing your horse in water for 12 hours per day.

Which measure is the best? No one knows for certain, not even the best minds in laminitis research. Moyer says that there have not been any controlled scientific studies comparing management techniques. “There is no evidence to suggest that any one management technique is better than the other,” Moyer says.

Moyer says, “You’ll receive a lot advice from everyone and every person will have a story about what saved a horse.” You can mention the issue to your veterinarian or farrier. But please don’t expect your horse to benefit from something that worked for someone else. Moyer admits that he has experienced the frustration firsthand. “You can treat two horses exactly the same, but they will have two very different results.”

There are certain factors that a farrier or veterinarian can use to narrow down treatment options for horses. A horse may have severe rotation in the coffin bone if X-rays are taken. This could indicate that the horse needs more support than a less severe rotation. However, such evidence does not indicate a course of action. How the horse reacts over time is what matters most. Moyer states, “I believe there is something that can help all horses.” “The problem with this is that every horse is unique and you won’t be able to know until you try it.”

This reality check is not just for specific treatments but also for long-term management of the horse. It is difficult to predict whether a horse with a severe condition will do better in a field or a stall. Moyer says, “If there were a surefire way to manage a findered horse it would be us all doing it.”

Ongoing progress The expectation is A foundered animal that responds to treatment will steadily improve and return to normal.

The truth: Even though a horse is seemingly fully recovered, his progress can vary from day to day and he may still have evidence that he has suffered from the hoof disease.

Many stories have been told about horses miraculously regaining their original form after a bout of founder or profound laminitis. These stories are uplifting and a source of comfort for those who have been through similar difficulties. They can also present a very biased picture of what to expect from a horse’s rehabilitation. This process can leave us feeling like we are on an endless roller coaster ride, experiencing the inevitable setbacks and improvements that will occur.

Moyer says, “Regardless of the appearance of a horse when he first examines him, his response to treatment and the end result of his condition cannot be accurately predicted.” A horse’s hoof may change over time and eventually look normal. He might even be able return to his old duties. Moyer reminds us that appearances can be deceiving. People only see that horses are sound. That is great. However, it does not mean that the hoof’s internal structures have been restored.

Moyer says, “Treatment for a foundered mare can only be seen as an attempt to allow it to live comfortably with structural damage.” You can reduce pain and prevent further damage, but it is impossible to reverse the damage done.

Moyer suggests that owners should monitor their horse’s progress, especially in the initial days and weeks following treatment. He encourages owners to have faith, but also to have a plan for when a horse’s health takes a turn for the worse.

Moyer states that even if a horse appears to be in recovery, it’s possible for him to still experience other foot problems, such as recurring abscesses, hoof-wall separations or abnormal hoof growth. These problems can be fixed, and it will be much easier for owners to handle when they occur.

All out effort It is expected that you will do everything to ensure your horse’s recovery.

The truth: Caring to a horse that is sick or injured can be a costly undertaking.

Every horse that is injured or sick would soon be able to recover if they were willing to do everything possible to help them. No one wants to watch a horse suffer. It can be very difficult to care for a horse with laminitis or founder. You can take stock of what is ahead to help you make the right decisions for your horse and yourself.

First, consider the time investment. Moyer says, “Fostering a horse that is sick or injured requires daily, sometimes very demanding, work.” Moyer does not care if your horse is boarding elsewhere. You’ll spend many hours at the barn each day, whether you are administering medication or changing hoof dressings. Daily visits and one-on-1 attention are the best.

Laminitis is a costly equine condition that can be difficult to budget for. A case of acute laminitis will cost you between $100 and $500 for an initial veterinary check. This depends on where you live, how many diagnostics are required, and what treatment is prescribed. A horse that does survive will require frequent visits to the farrier, as well as follow-up veterinary care. An average monthly cost for minimal care of a foundered horse would be $200

You can expect to pay more if complications occur. It can cost thousands to visit specialists and university clinics. Custom-made therapeutic shoes are also available. At least $200 per session, X-rays might be required several times throughout the year. An owner might spend as much as $10,000 to treat complex cases of laminitis in one year. Even then, there is no guarantee for the horse’s health or survival.

Be prepared for the emotional toll of caring for a horse that is sick. Are you able to live with the uncertainty of what you will find at the barn every day? Do you have the courage to do what is best for your horse, even if it means euthanizing him? These questions require some reflection. It’s hard to see the emotional drain without having experienced it. And no one can tell if you are ready to handle the situations that you will face.

While research may eventually lead to preventive measures against founder and laminitis, for now, owners, veterinarians, and farriers are best able to manage the aftermath in the most effective way for their horse.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!