I certainly don’t have all the answers when it comes to treating founder, but there have been some things that have really worked for me when dealing with foundered horses over more than 6 decades.
Based on my personal observations, I believe most cases of founder that I’ve dealt with were caused by fever. Yet, I readily admit that horses can founder in a number of ways.
When they first hear about founder, most people think the horse got into the feed barrel and ate too much. That is true, along with other causes such as getting a vitamin shot, being ridden too hard or too long, being watered when they are extremely hot from working and anything that upsets the stomach.
I’m convinced grass is the number one culprit. About 90% of the founder cases I’ve seen occurred in early spring after horses are turned out when the grass is lush and rich in nutrients, leading them to eat too much and end up with an impacted stomach and fever. I tell clients this situation is much like a kid walking into a candy store and overdoing it.
On the other hand, if a horse is kept on grass all winter before being turned out in new grass in the spring, founder is not normally a concern.
Since 1970, I’ve worked on over 400 foundered horses. What I’ve found is that the blood vessels in the hoof swell from the fever, which no longer allows blood to circulate. If these horses are not identified early, the blood vessels can swell so much that they will burst and dried blood will ooze out of the toe while trimming. This leads to lameness and hoof deformation.
With horses that foundered overnight, I often dug a hole about 8 inches deep in the corner of a pen, filled it with cool water and tied the horse so it would stand in the water for several hours. Before letting them out of the water, I made sure the fever was gone. When they got out, they were no longer taking any lame steps.
Years ago, I’d be called to a vet clinic that had a foundered horse that was too sore to walk and I’d nail on pads and shoes. Not knowing much about how to treat founder in those days, I now realize that was the worst thing I could have done.
While I was trying to offer the horse some relief, the pad and shoe combination raised the sole up off the ground and made it easier for the coffin bone to rotate. Instead, the sole should have been left flat with the ground.
Out of all of the foundered horses I have worked on since 1970, nearly all went back to being sound when given enough time. It certainly wasn’t an overnight fix, but it didn’t matter how long it had been since the founder occurred.
Weight Is A Major Concern
Obese horses are more likely to founder than horses carrying a normal weight. Any horse can founder, but you will find about 90% are overweight. As an example, about 70% of Shetland ponies are foundered — mainly because they are too fat.
On the other hand, donkeys that originated in desert areas learned to survive in a land where there wasn’t much grass and so they didn’t tend to become too heavy. But we now have a large population of donkeys in the U.S. that graze on lush grass, become overweight and many end up being foundered.
This is my theory on founder, and it’s worked for me for over 67 years of shoeing.