How Can You Prevent or Rehabilitate Equine Founder and Laminitis in Your Horse? Follow These Practices...

Equine founder happens when the coffin bone rotates and “sinks” into or through the sole of the horse's foot. Laminitis is inflammation caused by separation of the laminae (White Line) from the hoof wall. Laminitis always precedes equine founder , although founder does not always result from laminitis.

The coffin bone cannot sink into or through the sole of the hoof unless the attachment of the coffin bone to the hoof wall is weakened through laminitis.

Please be sure you understand the sentance above in bold before moving on if you want to fully understand and follow the rest of this page. Everything I'm about to say builds on that sentence. See (hoof anatomy) if you need an explanation of the hoof structures mentioned above.

If you look up equine founder in many books or on the Internet you will see much written on the subject of CAUSES of equine founder, including; overweight, overfeeding or too much rich feed like grain, sack horse feed etc., overwork, too much walking over hard ground, drinking water that is too cold, etc. etc. You will find that almost any stressful situation can “cause” equine founder. BUT.. none of those “causes” of founder in horses are truly causes at all! No stressful situation can cause equine founder unless the horse already has laminitis. (Weak connection of the coffin bone to the hoof wall.) Once this separation occurs, any stressful situation can trigger founder.

Which leads us to the question.. What causes the laminae to become separated or “pulled” from the hoof wall? There are 3 main causes:

Healthy horse hoof

The drawing illustrates the correct proportions of hoof wall, laminae (white line), and coffin bone. Notice the solid attachment of the the coffin bone to the laminae and the relationship of the coffin bone to the sole. This is a inside look at a healthy horse hoof.

1. Poor horse nutrition. Horses that do not receive proper nutrition cannot grow strong hooves! Even if you do everything else right in regards to proper horse hoof care, without proper nutrition your horse cannot grow strong hooves. Generally, a grass diet is best (not green lush grass but dry grass). Your horse will greatly benefit from good quality grass. Too much grain and sack horse feed, as well as, green lush grass often leads to or at least greatly increases the risk of laminitis and founder especially, if your horse does not receive enough exercise. Give your horse access to good grass forage or hay, provide exercise and remove grain from his diet to help prevent lamintis and founder.

equine founder, stretched white line

This drawing illustrates how the laminae are pulled away from their connection to the hoof wall and coffin bone when the toe area of the hoof wall is allowed to grow too long.

2. Overgrown, or hooves allowed to grow too long. As hooves are allowed to grow longer than the sole of the hoof they begin to support all or most of the horse's weight. Once this happens the hoof wall quickly separates from the laminae. Two common overgrown horse hoof problems are often referred to as; Long Toes and Long Heels. Each creates it's own problems discussed below:

Long toes- Long toes force the horse's hoof to “break over” with each step too far forward on the hoof, which creates imbalance leading to many horse health problems in addition to equine founder and laminitis, but in this case, we are concerned that the long toes stretch and pull the laminae away from the hoof wall weakening the coffin bone connection to the hoof wall.

To illustrate how this works...put your hand flat on a desk and pull your hand up toward the end of your fingers (like a horse's foot breaking over when stepping). Feel how it pulls on the muscles and tendons in the palm of your hand? Now make a fist and do the same thing, which shortens and rounds your hand break over. No Stress on the muscles in your palm at all right? That might not be a perfect analogy but it gives you the idea of the break over forces at work. Long heels- Heels that are neglected and allowed to grow too long (past the sole of the hoof) change the natural angle of the hoofs relation to the ground. Placing too much of the horses weight too far forward on the hoof. This condition tends to drive or force the coffin bone toward the toe or front of the hoof, which can completly separate the white line conection. 3.Wet conditions. Horse hooves weaken when they stay wet. When the horse's weight is applied to moist hooves the hoof wall often spreads out or pulls from the laminae. This condition is greatly amplified if the hoof wall is too long (longer than the sole).

Founder, bell flare

This drawing illustrates a bell flare typical of long hoof walls in wet conditions. The white line stretches (becomes wider) as it is pulled away from its connecton with the coffin bone and hoof wall.

founder, with correct hoof wall location shown

This drawing shows half of the bell flare trimmed away as it should be to treat the laminitis. The hoof wall is drawn in with the black line showing where the outside of the hoof wall should be and eventually will be as the hoof grows back with a tight white line connection.

The first noticeable symptom of laminitis is usually flaring of the hoof wall. Flares are areas on the hoof wall where the hoof wall has been allowed (usually through neglect) to carry most of the horse's weight. When this condition exists, the hoof wall “PULLS” on the laminae and “STRETCHES” the hoof wall away from the coffin bone, weakening the coffin bone attachment to the hoof wall.

Founder, flare removal with the bare foot trim

This drawing illustrates a toe flare that has been trimmed using the bare foot trim method which includes the rolled toe or mustang roll (shown in red). Notice that the trim removes the flare back to the start of the sole so that the laminae can once again grow a strong attachment with the hoof wall and coffin bone.

How to prevent Equine Founder and reverse Laminitis:

Founder, this is how a healthy foot looks

A healthy horse foot looks like this. Notice the solid white line, strong coffin bone attachment to the white line and the coffin bone's positon relative to the sole.

The Answer is...proper horse hoof care! (Click here for all the practices of horse hoof care) By following the 6 Steps of the Bare Foot Trim (click here to learn the Bare Foot Trim) and proper hoof care you can prevent equine founder by keeping your horse's feet healthy. Yes, equine founder is very preventable. The “trick” to preventing founder in horses is not keeping your horse out of any stressful situation (which is next to impossible) but in keeping you horse's feet healthy so, that your horse does not founder when he is in a stressful situation.

As described above your horses coffin bone cannot sink into or through the sole if it is attached firmly to the hoof wall. The laminae attach the coffin bone to the hoof wall and if they are firmly attached (not pulled or stretched) they will hold the coffin bone in it's proper position inside the foot.

Flaring is the usually first sign of weakening in the laminae (White Line) connection of hoof wall to coffin bone. The best remedy for flaring is the Bare Foot Trim. (e.g., keeping the hoof wall the same length as the sole, maintaining the mustang role, see Bare Foot Trim for details ) You can usually “see” flaring on the outside of the hoof wall by carefully looking at the hoof from the hair line down to the ground from all angles around the hoof. The hoof wall should maintain a consistent angle all the way to the ground. If it changes angle (flares) it indicates the weak laminae connection. A flare is indicating the stretched White Line (laminae connection).

The flare can also be seen by looking at the bottom of the foot, especially from a freshly trimmed foot where you can clearly see the width of the White Line (laminae). The width or thickness of the White Line varies some from horse to horse but is usually around one half inch in width. It should be consistent in width as well. An increase in width in one area of the foot usually indicates flaring.

The entire White Line can also be flared if the hoof wall is pulling away from the laminae all along the bottom of the hoof (an example would be a Bell Flare).

A horse with a consistent White Line width of about one half inch (varies with the size of horse and breed) is said to have healthy or “tight” White Line.

Often, when laminitis first gets started there is no physical lameness seen in the horse. In fact, the beginning stages of laminitis is very common and many horses exhibit some flaring of the hoof wall and it is usually not harmful unless left untreated. (Not performing barefoot hoof care.)

The longer the hoof becomes, the weaker the attachment of the laminae to the coffin bone also becomes, and the more likely equine founder will eventually result. So treat laminitis quickly by following the Barefoot Hoof Care practices described in this site to avoid and prevent equine founder altogether.

If your horse has already foundered, the methods in treating or rehabilitating the condition are much the same as preventing the condition.

If your horse just recently foundered he is likely in a lot of pain and I recommend you contact your veterinarian so that he can prescribe medication to ease his suffering and prescribe any treatment necessary to prevent infection. The acute part of equine founder normally last two weeks or less.

Founder hoof trim

When you trim for severe laminitis or founder, trim the hoof wall and stretched laminae all the way back to the start of the sole so that the laminae can re-attach to the coffin bone and hoof wall as the hoof grows. Also, be sure to trim the heel of the hoof all the way to the seat of the corn (sole) to lower the heels to the proper height. This will often bring much relief to the horse because it allows him to take weight off his toes which are very sore.

Depending on the severity of the founder your horse is very likely not going to want to walk much and definitely will not want to put weight on the toe areas of the foundered feet (usually the front feet). The coffin bone sinks into or out the bottom of the hoof in the toe area of the sole. So, this area will be the most sore and the horse usually stands with his hind legs tucked under him and his front legs out front in an effort to hold his weight up without putting weight on the toes of his front feet. He will often rock back and forth in this position.

The best way to help rehabilitate your foundered horse is to make sure you follow horse hoof care outlined in this web site. The only difference is.. when you get to Step 5 of the Bare Foot Trim instead of rasping just to the inside of the hoof wall (the water line) I want you to rasp THROUGH the water line and THROUGH the laminae or white line, right up to the edge of the sole in the toe area of the hoof wall. We do this in the foundered horse to relieve the pressure on the toe of the hoof wall, which is the area of the hoof causing the most discomfort for your horse, especially when he walks and breaks over. As he begins to recover return to the normal bare foot trim and rasp back to the edge of the laminae only, not to the sole.

The goal is to trim his feet properly and get him to start putting weight back on his balanced feet.

Founder, hoof begins to recover

The hoof will begin to grow, recover and become healthy again with proper hoof care. This foundered foot is ready for another trim. Remember to remove the hoof wall and white line back to the sole until it grows in tight without any flaring.

This will be a slow recovery process. Often, an entire new hoof wall from the hair line down has to be grown if the coffin bone has completly detached from the hoof wall, and it may take up to a year (hoof wall grows at about one quarter inch per month) to grow a whole hoof from hair line to the ground.

Hoof boots may make it easier for your horse to begin walking more comfortably in the beginning, or even, using duct tape to hold foam padding to the bottom of his feet, for as long as it takes for him to be able to walk without it. (Some horse will not require this step at all. ) As soon as possible transition to a irrigated or soft pasture without boots or padding and eventually hard ground. (Pee gravel in stalls is said to be working well by many natural hoof care experts.) You need to get your horse to use his bare feet again. It's the only way to help your horse build strong feet and for him to fully recover.

Most horses can be ridden after being foundered and should fully recover. Each horse is different and will require more or less time to rehabilitate just follow the same practices described in bare foot hoof care.

Maintaining bare foot hoof care in extremely important for a foundered horse. Once a horse has foundered he is more likely to do it again if proper hoof care is not provided.

Founder, proper placement of bones in leg

This drawing illustrates the bones and structure of the lower leg and hoof in a healthy horse.

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