Laminitis and Founder

A common belief is that laminitis is a hoof problem but in reality it is a whole body issue which shows up in the hoof. It therefore makes sense that it is increasingly being found among hoof care providers and holistic experts that horses living a more natural life are much more resistant to this condition. A horse with natural bare feet, allowed 24/7 turnout with little to no chemical usage and a strong immune system due to a balanced diet are at the least risk. By understanding the basics of laminitis and founder, what triggers can be and a holistic approach to prevention and treatment, owners are not at the total mercy of this dreaded disease.

The word "laminitis" means simply the inflammatin of the laminae. The "laminae" is like the "velcro" between the coffin bone and the hoof wall. By the time you see signs of lameness, the damage is already taking place. The trigger is the hindgut bacteria streptococcus bovis. The horse’s natural diet of mixed grasses provides structural carbohydrates, but fructans (non-structural carbohydrate) usually dominate the engineered grasses and hays we feed our horses today. The horse (or any other mammal) has no enzymes to digest the non-structural carbohydrate; fructan. They are present in great quantities in our sweet feed, rich cultivated pastures and our beautiful "horse quality" hay.  Fructan, sugars and starches pass undigested into the hindgut where they undergo rapid fermentation to lactic acid (which can then be utilized by the horse, but not quite naturally). S. Bovis is the bacteria primarily responsible for this and can undergo a 1680 fold increase in numbers during a carbohydrate overload that leads to laminitis.

Dr. Christopher Pollit has also proven that the laminae readily separate when they are starved of glucose. A major feature of any metabolic stress is a reduction of glucose supply to the extremities. This is done to preserve the more vital organs. When the digestive bacteria in the hindgut go through the massive die-off often associated with sudden changes in diet and with the development of laminitis, the resulting lack of digestive bacteria creates an immediate "starvation" within the horse. The forces required to cause physical separation are much greater in the hoof walls (when they are in a solitary support role without aid from a well callused sole).

This is one of the reasons we see so much more resistance to founder in hooves that are maintained in a natural form. The shear forces are greatly reduced.

Naturally shaped and developed hooves have much more thorough blood circulation in place: Dr. Robert Bowker - Theory of Hemodynamics. The blood pumping action of the foot is much more advanced and difficult to obtain than most farriers realize. It goes far beyond simple frog pressure and requires proper development and flexion of the foot from the moment of birth. It is not only important for energy dissipation and for easing the burden on the heart, proper hoof function and circulation also gives the foot profound advantages and resistance when laminitis does make it to the acute stage and circulation loss becomes a more important factor. The foot must be allowed to flex and function at this stage to aid in circulation.

The same thing that causes fat causes laminitis; excess or improper feeding. Not all horses have to be fat to suffer from laminitis. If owners would recognize that increasing fat on a horse is reason for panic, laminitis would become a distant memory. Underweight horses have also been foundered by caring owners pouring feed and grains to their horses in an attempt to put weight on them. The owners are just keeping the horse in constant metabolic distress and foundering feet. The horse has no means to utilize the rich (high non-structural carbohydrates) feed. All the horse needs to gain weight and grow healthy hooves is a simple free-choice, mixed grass hay diet (plus salt and minerals).

12_1.1_profile_BT1_6_9_08Ripples or red stripes on the hoof walls, abscessing, fan shaped growth rings, obesity, abnormal weight loss, dull, shaggy coats or an unwillingness to shed winter coats, flat soles, wall flares or while line separation, negative attitude, laziness, and hoof sensitivity should be cause for immediate concern for anyone associated with horses.

Founder is when the laminitic condition continues until the hoof wall loses all attachment to the coffin bone and rotation begins to occur.

12_1.2_coffin_bone_penetrateSigns of laminitis and founder are usually easy to spot by an observant caretaker and often but not always appear only in one or both front feet. During the developmental state, the horse may appear a little “off”, depressed and may show signs of other issues such as a fever, slight dehydration or colic. Pain begins during the acute phase and shifting of weight, holding up the limb, lying down or the classical founder stance may be observed. This stance is when the horse places his front feet forward and rocks back on his hindend to shift the weight off the painful toes. Often times, the hoof will be warm and exaggerated pulses might be felt over the fetlock. Once moving to the chronic and founder stage, physical signs in the hoof will be observed such as flaring, stretched white line, depression or softness near the coronary band, ridges in the hoof wall, abnormal flat or bulging sole and in some cases, penetration of the coffin bone through the sole. Although this sounds gruesome it’s important to know that just because a horse has a laminitic attack does not always mean that the condition will move to full founder.


Laminitis and Founder protocol – Trim, boot, pad. We must remove the mechanical force to walls. Boots with pads provide great relief to the laminitic or foundered animal. Look at boots like bandaging. If your horse injured his leg and required daily bandaging you most likely wouldn’t hesitate . We must look at booting the laminitic and foundered horse the same way and provide protection to the hoof by using boots and pads following a barefoot trim relieving the walls and the pain of the wall being pulled away from the bone.

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.  ~ Winston Churchill