Wed. Oct 16th, 2019

What is founder in horses – causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention

6 min read

Founder, technically known as laminitis, occurs when there is inflammation of the laminae. The laminae is the tissue that connect the pedal bone to the hoof. Founder is a very common and painful condition.

What is founder in horses? When there is inflammation and subsequently damage of the laminae, founder occurs. AtAnatomy of hoof times, the damage is so severe that the petal bone is no longer supported and it rotates towards the hoof, sometimes even through the hoof.



  • Carbohydrate overload – when a horse is given grain in excess or the horse eats grass under stress and he has accumulated excess sugars and starches or fructans and it may be unable to digest all of this in the foregut. The excess then moves to the hind gut and the ferments in the cecum. This causes increase acidity and kill the good bacteria. From there, the endotoxins are absorbed into the blood stream causing body wide inflammation, particularly in the laminae of the feet, where the tissues have no room to expand without injury.
  • Nitrogen compound overload – With rapid increase of potentially toxic non-protein nitrogen compound, the natural metabolic process becomes overloaded, resulting in liver disturbance and toxic imbalance. Many weeds eaten by the horse are nitrate accumulators. If clover is allowed to dominate the pasture, this may allow excess nitrogen in forage. This can trigger laminitis/flounder.
  • Colic – After a severe case of colic, horses may get laminitis due to the release of endotoxins in the blood stream.
  • Lush pasture – When releasing your horse to pasture after being kept in for the winter, the excess fructan in fresh spring grass can lead to laminitis/founder.
  • Frosted grass -When in a freezing temperature, grass ceases to grow, meaning the sugars in the pasture grass cannot be used as fast as it is produced. Sugars cause increase in insulin levers, which can trigger laminitis.
  • Untreated infection – Infections, particularly those caused by bacteria, cause endotoxins in the blood stream and is notorious for causing flounder
  • Insulin resistance – These horses tend to become obese very easily. The connection between insulin resistance and laminitis is not understood, but may be caused by the sugars and starches in the diet.

Road Founder

Road founder is when the horses with long toes are worked extensively on hard ground. This contributes to delayed break over, separation of the lamina at the toe. Also, see in overweight animals.

Poor blood circulation

  • Lack of movement can cause stagnant amoxia, in turn can cause laminitis
  • Static laminitis is caused by favoring an injured leg and placing more weight on the other leg.
  • Transport laminitis occurs when horses are confined in a trailer for long periods of time.


Founder can be found in any of your horse’s feet but it is most often reported in the front. Some of the most common signs of founder are:
  • Sudden lamenessfoundered horse
  • Reluctance to walk or move
  • Pulse felt in the foot
  • Alternating weight from leg to leg
  • Does not want to lift, bend, or raise a leg
  • Warm foot Laying down more often
  • Obvious pain when standing or moving
  • Movement or rotation of pedal bone
  • Standing with front legs out in front of their body
  • Standing with both front and rear legs under their body


A distinction must be made between acute and chronic laminitis. A chronic situation can be wither stable or unstable. It is important to identify if it’s acute, chronic, stable or unstable before choosing a proper treatment plan. There is no cure for flounder/laminitis and many initial treatment of cold therapy and anti-inflammatory may prevent mechanical breakdown if caught immediately. Most of the time its only caught once initial damage is done. In the case of endotoxima, the underlying cause should be addressed with the laminitis treatment.

There are many ways of treating laminitis/flounder. Each horse and affected hoof should be evaluated individually, and should be re-evaluated on a regular basis.


Initial management usually includes stall rest and minimal movement. Stall bedding should be deep shavings, straw or sand. Once the horse improves with treatment, exercise should start slowly, with hand-walking on soft footing, then turnout, and finally riding under saddle. This process may take months to complete.


Placing the feet in an ice slurry up to the level of the knee in the early stages of laminitis has a protective effect. It reduces the inflammation in the lamelae. Hooves should be maintained at a temperature less than 10 degrees Celsius at the hoof wall for 24-72 hours.

Drug therapy

Anti-inflammatory and analgesics

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, DMSO, Pentoxpfylline and cryotherapy are always used when treating acute laminitis.

For Analgesic, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are often used first. Phenylbutazone is commonly used for its strong effect and relatively low cost. Flunixin, Ketofen, and others are also used. Non-specific NSAIDs such as suxibuzone, COX-2 specific drugs suck as firocoxib and diclophenac, may be safer than Phenylbutazone in preventing gastric users and kidney damage. Firocoxib provides less pain relief than Phenylbutazone or Flunixin.

We are to be very careful that pain is not completely taken away because this will encourage the horse to move around which increases the separation of the laminae.

Pentafusion or Ketamine, Idocane, Morphine and Acepromazine at a constant rate could be beneficial to a horse suffering from flounder.

Epidurals may be used in hind-limb laminitis.


The widening of the blood vessels are often used to improve blood flow. During the early stages, vasodilator is withheld due to the harm that it could cause the patient, either through hot water or vasodilatory drugs.

Acepromazine as a vasodilator with a small amount of sedation reduces the horse’s movement and reduces trauma to the hooves. This may be beneficial after damages has occurred, with no effect to the blood flow.

Nytroglycerines has also been applied topically to increase blood flow, but it doesn’t appear to be effective.

Trimming and Shoeing

Once inflammatory and metabolic issues have been resolved, correct trimming and orthopedics can affects the reorientation of the distal phalanx, which is essential to de-rotate and re-establish proper spacial orientation.

Aggressive therapy

Dorsal hoof wall resection is a procedure that may be beneficial when a laminar wedge forms and prevents proper reattachment of the laminae. When the coffin bone is pulled away from the hoof wall, the remaining laminae will tear

Coronary grooving

To encourage dorsal hoof wall growth and improve alignment, removing a groove of hoof wall just distal to the coronary band may be done.

Deep digital flexor tenotomy

Cutting the tendon either in the cannon region or in the pasturn region is thought to, over a period of 6 weeks, allowlaminitis the P3 to realign with ground surface. Horse may return to work after this surgery. This is often used for severe cases of laminitis, and requires proper trimming and shoeing to be successful.


By taking preventative measures, and paying attention to a few key points, many cases of founder can be prevented.

  • A well-balanced, appropriate diet. Restrict excessive feed intake especially during spring
  • Regular exercise, including riding, lungeing or leading
  • Monitoring body condition and weight
  • If the risk of founder is occurring or re-occurring, consider adding a founder preventative agent to the feed
  • Regular farrier visit and hoof care.

Being aware

Here, I would like to take the opportunity to ask you to notice that flounder/laminitis is a very painful condition. Always follow your veterinary’s advice. Never try to guess and treat on your own. When owning horses, it is very important to be aware of their behaviors and body conditions because these are our foundation to keeping them healthy and well.

I hope you liked this post. Have you ever had a horse with flounder? I’d love to hear about it!

Please leave any questions or comments below.

Happy Horsin’ Around


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