Ocala, FL – The time of year that everyone has been waiting for is here—pastures are green, the weather is beautiful, and horses and humans are heading outside to enjoy the season to its fullest. In the midst of their eagerness for summer, though, equestrians must be on alert for diseases that could harm their beloved horses. The painful condition of “founder” may occur in horses who have eaten too much freshly-grown green grass or consumed too much water while they were overheated. Founder is a condition in which the tissue that connects the horse’s coffin bone to the hoof wall deteriorates. This deterioration damages arteries and veins in the area, and causes the coffin bone to rotate. The extremely painful rotation can, in severe cases, push the coffin bone down through the sole of the horse’s hoof. While founder can occur in all four of a horse’s legs, it is most commonly found in the front two legs because they support the majority of the horse’s body weight.
Although spring and summer are especially prevalent times for horses to suffer from founder due to over-consumption of lush grass or too much water while hot, several other causes of founder make the disorder a possibility at any time of year. These other causes include experiencing reproductive problems (in mares), being obese, experiencing high stress, overeating grain that contains a high percentage of carbohydrates, having insulin resistance, exercising often on hard footing, using bedding that contains black walnut shavings, experiencing a high fever, using a high dosage of corticosteroids for a long period of time, experiencing hoof problems, and suffering from colic.
The early stages of founder can sometimes be difficult to recognize in a horse. The animal may first appear slightly stiff, particularly in the front two legs. As the condition worsens, the horse will typically begin standing with his back legs positioned forward beneath him so that they are able to support more weight. His front legs will be stretched out before him, balanced on his front heels. The horse will exhibit an unwillingness to walk, may shift his weight from hoof to hoof often, and will attempt pivoting on a back leg when turning around. In cases where founder affects all four legs, the horse will lie down as often as possible. Signs of pain such as heavy breathing and glazed eyes will be evident as the condition worsens. A foundering horse’s hooves feel hot to the touch, and a strong pulse can be felt in his digital arteries.
Brenda McDuffee, General Manager of The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center in Ocala, Florida, says that the key factors in treating founder are to catch it immediately and treat it very aggressively. Finding and treating the disorder right away gives a horse with founder the best chances at recovery. Even so, founder is not an easy ailment to remedy. “It is usually many months down the road before a horse with founder might be able to go back to work,” McDuffee explains.
Despite this, veterinary practices and advanced treatments at The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center can help horses overcome the odds and return to a life free of founder. An equine owner who notices signs of founder can begin helping the horse while waiting for the veterinarian to arrive by taking the affected horse off of grass immediately and cold hosing the hooves if they are hot. Veterinarians will apply such treatments as administering mineral oil into the horse’s digestive tract through a nasogastric tube, which will be affective if the founder was caused by overeating; draining any abscesses that are present in the hooves; and using a magnetic hoof pad to increase circulation in the area while decreasing pain. Veterinarians can also give the horse antibiotics, anti-endotoxins, anticoagulants, vasodilators, painkillers, and anti-inflammatories. As the horse is being treated and recovering over time, his diet should be low on sugar, starch, and carbohydrates.
Often, a step further than general founder treatments is necessary to save the affected horse. Brenda McDuffee of The Sanctuary says “In addition to conventional treatments, many horse owners want to utilize our advanced rehabilitation modalities to improve their horses odds of recovering completely.” The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center offers advanced treatments for foundering horses, such as the Cold Saltwater Leg Spa which numbs the horse’s pain, reduces heat in the hooves and legs, draws out infection, and increases the flow of oxygen where needed. Another Sanctuary treatment used for founder is the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, which speeds up the healing process in the horse by increasing the flow of oxygen by twelve to fifteen times the usual amount. This is especially important for repairing the damaged tissue of the coffin bone and hoof wall. Pegasus Laser is a Sanctuary laser therapy that reduces the horse’s pain and swelling, as well as helps the hoof to grow more rapidly. The Sanctuary’s Magnawave/ P3-Electromagnectic Pulse Machine and Vertical Vibration plates increases circulation, oxygen flow, and hoof growth while reducing pain.
McDuffee reminds horse owners that immediate treatment of founder is most effective. “We once had an acute founder case brought to us immediately in conjunction with conventional aggressive veterinarian treatments, which was a good example of utilizing treatments when they would be most beneficial instead of trying to undo what has already been done. There was also a case where a horse came in immediately when it foundered, and we used the Cold Saltwater Leg Spa multiple times a day. That horse went home within a month and went back into training.” The Sanctuary has also aided foundering horses in later stages of the disorder. “We also participated in a chronic founder case (18 months old) that had a great outcome. We did Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Solarium Therapy, and Vertical Vibration Plate Therapy. The horse is now being ridden again.” McDuffee smiles.
The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center is prepared to help horse owners and veterinarians with relieving horses from the pain and injury caused by founder. To learn more about The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center, visit www.sanctuaryequinerehab.com.