Horse owners must be on guard against foundering!


Hope is dead.

Thatís a painful statement at any time and in any situation.Itís especially painful to me now because I sold Hope, a beautiful Kentucky Mountain mare, to a well-meaning family that ended up contributing to her demise.

Mountain horses, and many other breeds, are known as easy keepers.That means it takes very little food to keep them in optimum condition.Too much food can cause a painful condition called founder.It can strike in a very short time.

Founder can be caused from illness, stress, sometimes even vaccinations.However, the most common cause of founder is overeating.And, the most common time for a horse to founder is in spring when the new grass is filled with sugar.

Horses will gorge on the new grass, causing serious weight gain and - if not properly managed - founder.

Precursors of founder include excess fat all over and a rock-hard crest of fat on the neck where the mane attaches.Foundered horses will exhibit unwillingness to put weight on their front feet.This is because founder causes the lamina to swell, making the feet hot and very painful.Imagine having a giant, hot poker shoved under every toenail.

In the worst cases, the hoof can detach or the coffin bone can come out through the bottom of the frog.Such cases require a lot of time, care and special shoeing.Such cases also often result in euthanasia.Thatís what happened to Hope.

Her owners apparently couldnít understand that Hope could not be left out on pasture.She needed to be put in a grass-free corral and fed small amounts of dry, grass hay.

Horses donít have the sense to quit eating when it causes them harm.Iíve seen horses so foundered they could not stand but would still graze while lying down.Thatís why itís the ownerís responsibility to regulate the horseís feed and amount of consumption.

Once a horse has foundered, it will be more likely to founder again.That makes attention and prevention is so important.

If founder is suspected, a veterinarian should be called immediately.He or she will probably recommend an anti-inflammatory medication like Butte or Banamine.Keeping the hooves cool also helps halt permanent damage.

Some folks swear by placing a foundered horse in a cold stream to bring down the temperature of the feet.Icepacks also are helpful.

Prevention is best.Our 30 acres of pasture is divided into small paddocks to accommodate our easy-keepers.We made the divisions by putting in T-posts and running strands of a rope-like hot wire.

Most of the paddocks look like the green on a golf course all summer because the horses mow every blade as it appears.I monitor their weight carefully and let them into new paddocks for a few hours daily Ė as their weight and energy output permit.Obviously, a horse being ridden regularly will require more pasture time than a horse that is just standing around.

Become aware of your horseís physical condition.The ribs of a horse in good weight will not be easily visible, but can be felt with slight pressure.The neck will be soft and pliable.There will be no bulge in the mane area.If you have questions, ask your vet to evaluate your horseís weight.

Please take the time to monitor your horseís physical condition.One of my horses, Chocolate Jewel, started to founder recently.She looked fine at morning inspection but was obviously lame when evening came.The pasture looked sparse, but apparently offered too many calories.

I called the vet, dosed Jewel with the prescribed amount of medication and immediately removed her from pasture to a dry lot.She was sound when I took her to the vet in the morning and has remained so Ė because I cut off the cause of the founder.

When sheís lost a significant amount of weight through diet and exercise, Iíll reintroduce her to an already closely grazed pasture for short periods of time.She will probably always have to be watched closely and never just turned out day and night to graze.

However, with the program, sheíll also probably live to a ripe old age in complete soundness.The extra time it will take to regulate her feed is more than worth it to me.


Desirai Schild raises horses and writes from a 20-acre farm near Chubbuck, Idaho.Call her at (208) 237-6413.