So many horse owners don’t relate physical pain to behavioral issues. Today, I interviewed my farrier and horse health consultant, Margaret, about the commonly misread and unseen signs that your horse is foundering!!

Foundering happens when the sugar content in the grass is too high for your horse’s metabolism, and he begins to feel pain in his feet because of the extra sugars.

So, what can you do to help a foundering horse? How can you prevent it from happening to your horses? Are there ever times you don’t have to be on the look out? Let’s get started!

Signs of a foundering (or foundered) horse

He will develop ‘Founder’s Crest’. This is when a particularly hard bulge will begin to form on your horse’s crest. The neck will usually start getting biggeIMG_3021.JPGr and harder first at the base (close to the withers) and then spread further up towards the ears. “(Founder’s Crest) means the sugar level is going up in their blood.”  Margaret says, showing me Joey’s problem area.

Margaret shows me how thick Joey’s crest has become due to his sugar levels. Her hand has to stretch to grasp over it.
Pilar’s crest fits nicely in Margaret’s hand, unlike Joey’s.

2. Frequent stumbling. “Horses will start to stumble on the front feet,” Margaret tells me. “It can be very slight,” but this means he is starting to have discomfort. So no more ‘bad horse!’ when your horse stumbles. Check out all the other signs to see if he could be in pain!

3. There will be heat in the hoof. If you feel the hoof and it feels warm, this is another sign that your horse may be foundering.

4. A ripple on the hoof wall means your horse has foundered in the past. A healthy hoof will grow the ripples out, but it is a sign to watch for nonetheless. IMG_3026.JPG

This ripple is already starting to grow out, but you will see it if you look to the left on the hoof.

5. There are fat deposits in odd places. “Fat deposits in the flank area and the shoulder [also the crease down the back]” mentions Margaret. Those are all odd places to have fat on a horse and means it is likely to founder.

6. He will want to stand and shift his weight. Is your horse lazy? Is he constantly moving from side to side, shifting his weight in a resting position? He’s in pain because of the sugar levels in his blood.

How to cure and prevent founder

“During the day, when the sun is shining, the sugar levels in the grass go up,” says Margaret who has had lots of experience in diagnosing and curing foundering horses. “During the night, the grass is growing and using up all that sugar.” So horses prone to founder should be out on fresh pasture only at night. “Except [in the fall and in the spring] when there is frost at night. Then the water has been frozen out of the grass, leaving just the sugar,” Margaret informs me. In that case, foundering horses should be left on pasture in the day time and taken off at night.

  1. So the #1 thing to do is take your horse off fresh grass! Put them on a slow feed netted bale in a dry-lot pen during the time of day the grass produces the most sugars. (If it’s summer, that’s during the day. If there is still frost, during the night.) IMG_3032.JPGAs one who cares for the horse’s emotional well-being as well as the physical, Margaret recommends you persevere through this diet for the horse’s sake. “It’s okay if they are a little bit depressed with the situation,” she says. “Just keep it up until it’s over.” It will be worth it in the long run!

    Soleil sighs in boredom as he watches his high metabolism buddies eating the lush grass outside his dry lot pen.
  2. If you don’t have a dry lot pen then the next best thing is exercise. Margaret says she has seen complete turn-arounds after the owner has committed to doing “30 minutes of exercise with the horse 3 times daily, preferably at a trot.” It’s probably the most important thing you can do for your foundering horse.
  3. And lastly, watch for the signs of founder! If something even seems slightly wrong, do something about it NOW so it doesn’t get out of hand!

Horses that are prone to foundering

  1. Ponies and miniatures. “The smaller the size,” says Margaret, “the more likely they are to founder.” 
  2. Older horses. But younger horses can founder too! “The youngest horse I’ve seen to have developed insulin resistance [from foundering] was six!” This goes to show how serious letting your horse founder is.
  3. Horses that have foundered before. Like colic, once they’ve foundered once it’s hard to keep them from foundering. Be on the look out!

So, ALL horses are at risk of foundering. Margaret reassures me that some horses, “horses with a high metabolism are not such a big concern.” But at the end of the day, I’ve made the conclusion that it’s important to watch all horses very carefully to ensure they are safe, healthy, and happy. 




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