Founder is a specific form of aseptic inflammation of the laminae, in other words a “sudden foundering of the hoof (laminitis acuta). In this illness the aseptic inflammation will spread on the overweight/overstressed part of the laminae. It can affect one or all hoofs at the same time. This ailment usually appears suddenly with several causatives to trigger it. In some cases it comes after unusually hard work (traumatic founder) or due to errors in the diet (toxic founder), especially after feeding fresh grains (uncured), fresh (uncured) or moldy clover or hay, large doses of molasses (carbohydrates – sugars, starches) and overfeeding with feeds rich in proteins (albumin). Another known form of toxic founder is improper bedding (eating), like Black Walnut shavings and some Cherry wood, as well by ingesting other poisonous plants. Another reason for acute hoof-founder can be during or after serious infectious illnesses often accompanied with high fevers (pneumonia, phlegmon etc.) – (symptomatic founder). Also known is the founder after abortion, during the last stages of pregnancy and after delivery/foaling (laminitis peuperalis). The founder also appears in older stallions that are active in breeding, usually within three months after the end of breeding season, more likely due to improper adjustment of the diet and lack of exercise. Besides these “triggering” reasons there are other causes in which the hoof is subjected to unusual/severe strain/stress, such as other forms of aseptic inflammations of the laminae (serious case of gravel/abscess etc.).

The etiology of this ailment is not quite known/defined. According to some opinions it is one of the fundamental chain links of the causes that lead to the acute laminitis histamine. It is also fair to say, that this illness is related to certain blood disorders (circulation), hence part of the old-fashioned treatment besides therapeutic help was venesection/phlebotomy; in other words, bleeding the horse to provide a “thinning of the blood” or in older days of medicine, the so-called “purifying of the blood”.

This illness has very obvious characteristics. The horse will take up an atypical stand. In founder of the front legs, the horse will put his front ahead of himself, more forward while the hind legs will be placed more under his body. In founder of the hind legs (less common) the horse puts his front legs more under, with his head low to the ground. In founder on all four legs, the horse will try to put more weight on the legs that are less foundered, for the most part however, he will be laying down often and additionally having difficulty getting up.

The patient has great difficulty moving from one place, and is also very lame. The hooves are “hot” in most cases and very sore, especially in the front. Often times, the overall condition of the patient is disturbed.

The sudden foundering of the hoof (hooves) often ends in the deformation of the hoof, the so-called foundered hoof/foot. This deformation is characterized in the “roll” (Fig. 2 a.) of the front part of the hoof accompanied with high heels, rings on the hoof wall that will widen toward the heel/back of the hoof, widening of the white line (so-called wall separation) in the front of the hoof, and often bulging (protruding) in the sole of the foot appearing in front of the frog. The patient with foundered foot/feet upon movement steps first on the heel/rear part of the hoof/hooves.

The summation of this article is best served using comparison for better understanding; and for the same sake, I will add my own experiences with several dozen cases with which I had the opportunity to work.

The founder can be compared to a kind of “melt down” involving the hoof-carrying ability, where the entire infrastructure of the hoof is collapsing, thus the hoof is no longer able to support the bones within, and the first link of the toe/finger (P3 here in US) is pushing under the weight through the hoof. This then results in the so-called “turning” of the coffin bone. The word turning is actually geometrically somewhat incorrect, and the term of the bone “dropping down” sounds better regarding the description of what is actually happening, as it involves a change in the angle of the coffin bone (Fig. 1) as it relates to the joint, as well as, to the ground and the relevance to the hoof when protruding through the sole of the foot. The pain is immense and almost unimaginable. To help one imagine the obvious pain – compare it to ripping off a fingernail in the upward direction, and to understand the actual suffering, one would have to stand/support his body on this halfway ripped off finger- nail.

It is therefore very important to help the animal immediately, and not to wait for the veterinarian if he cannot come when called, as is often the case. It is also very crucial that the animal get therapeutic help by an experienced farrier immediately/same day if possible. Acute laminitis is a medical emergency and treatment should be initiated immediately to prevent rotation of the coffin bone.
(see emergency treatment)

Even though the etiology of this ailment is not quite defined, I have made the following observation in dozens of founder cases. First and foremost I could truly state that most of the horses (about 90%) were very much overweight/obese. Many of the newly foundered horses also had the type of hoof, which had the tendencies of too high a heel and very shallow sole (usually horses with high heels also have deep cups in a normal hoof). I have also taken note, that most of the foundering of horses (about 90%) in the northern half of USA occur during the months of July, August and September. This is usually the time, when the horses are well fed from the spring and early summer grass, are overweight and their system is preparing for the winter months (hence additional storage of fats). Most foundered horses are inactive, usually over-eating with little to no output of energy. Often, a sudden excessive work out would trigger the founder (longer trail ride, irregular exercise, extremely hot weather, etc. etc.) or simply too much food to an already overweight horse.

The foundering of horses was not as frequent forty years ago as it is in today’s day and age. I believe the diets of many horses are disturbed with unnecessary use of various supplements which were not available during my younger days. The commercial world is constantly developing new things/ideas on accomplishing one thing or another related to horses, rather than the good ole days of hard work, care and simplicity. Furthermore, many folks purchase horses and believe that over-feeding and providing them with treats, means love. It is important to remember, that grains are not a natural food for horses; moreover, they are energy (growth, breeding, lactating) supplements, especially where the older and mature non-working horses are concerned.

If we feed horses with energy supplements, then we should provide them with an outlet for the energy. Otherwise, inevitably it will lead to various health/mental/physical problems, as well as, to the disturbance of the body/blood chemistry and some can lead to founder. I believe that horses on such disturbed/complicated/improper diets will have greater tendencies to founder even under light stress on the blood system and the body chemistry. For example, a previously healthy horse can withstand higher fever and not founder as a result of it, while on the other hand a horse on an unbalanced diet/chemistry and poor health/physical condition/overweight, etc., will succumb to it more quickly. As in any illnesses, the horse that is/was in good general health, strong and physically fit, will better overcome it with ease, than the unfit, overweight horse that will have a much harder time dealing with it, hence the secondary side-effects of any illness are more severe in the latter case.

In order to care properly for a horse, one has to be familiar not only with the nature of a horse, but with the nature of a particular breed ,as well as with the horse’s individual nature. The feeding must be adjusted tri-fold, according to: (1) nature/physical characteristics of the horse, (2) output of energy, (3) consideration to climate/seasons.

phle-bot-o-my (fli-bot-me) phle-bot-o-mies. The act or practice of opening a vein by incision or puncture to remove blood as a therapeutic treatment. Also called venesection. [Middle English flebotomie, from Old French flebothomie, from Late Latin phlebotomia, from Greek, from phlebotomos, opening a vein : phlebo-, phlebo- + -tomos, cutting. See -TOME.]


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