Health

After Founder

Horses who have foundered might need special attention to their diets.

Rapidly growing spring grass poses a problem to some horses and creates the need to place them in dry lots and limit their grass intake.

I have received several calls from people who now have their horses in stalls or paddocks and aren’t sure what to feed them. When considering diets for horses who are laminitic (prone to founder or are already foundered), there are two distinct types of horses: those who foundered due to a change in diet and those who foundered due to something else, such as a retained placenta, endotoxemia caused by colic, hormonal imbalance, ground founder, etc.

The horses in the second group did not founder due to dietary triggers and usually do not require a special diet. However, like all horses, they should receive a well-balanced diet to keep them healthy. For the first group we’ve already discussed that many of them suffer from “metabolic syndrome” and are susceptible to gaining weight easily and foundering on lush spring pastures. Now that we’ve gotten them off the pasture and are either eliminating or limiting their access to grass, let’s talk about providing them a good balanced ration until pasture growth has slowed and we can turn them back out.

Watch the Sweets


Most horses prone to founder are carbohydrate-sensitive and overweight. Therefore, it is important to avoid feeds that are high in sugar or starch, such as grain-based or sweet feeds.

Starvation isn’t the answer to taking weight off these horses. Overweight horses who are starved back to pull weight off often metabolize excess amounts of fat, resulting in high levels of fat in the blood stream, which can damage the horse’s liver. A diet low in calories but high in fiber works best to allow them to gradually lose weight while staying healthy.

Remember that horses are designed to live on a forage-based diet. That means grass and/or hay – and mature, stemmy grass hay is the best nutritional source for the overweight horse.

If you’re feeding last year’s hay in order to reduce the horse’s caloric intake, you may need to supplement the ration with protein, vitamins and minerals. Foundered mature horses need at least a 10-percent protein ration (1.5-2.0 lbs per day) to help their damaged feet heal, so keep the ration simple by feeding one supplement containing all three. Micronutrients such as biotin may also be beneficial, but remember, they are micronutrients and should be fed in very small amounts.

Stomach ulcers can be a hidden cause of poor performance in horses.Learn the causes, signs and treatments of stomach ulcers, a common problem in horses with AQHA's Stomach Ulcers in Horses FREE report.

If the laminitic horse is thin and needs calories, don’t provide carbohydrate-containing grain, but rather feed beet pulp or forage-based feed like alfalfa cubes. If the horse is still underweight, add an edible oil such as corn oil to the diet. Laminitic horses can handle calories from fiber and fat but not starch or sugar. Make sure you do not buy beet pulp that is mixed with molasses.

Conquering Laminitis by 2020

Provided by American Association of Equine Practitioners, an  AQHA Alliance Partner

Late last year, nearly 50 researchers and laminitis experts from around the world met at a conference hosted by the American Association of Equine Practitioners to prioritize future laminitis research needs. The purpose of the meeting was to move the industry closer to unraveling the elusive mysteries of laminitis and help develop effective strategies that will eventually lead to eradicating the disease. The group also explored specific questions about the direction and cost of future laminitis projects.

Presentations and discussions included inflammation, vascular function, endothelial dysfunction, insulin resistance, biomechanics and chronic pain management.

Participants of the November meeting were challenged to develop plans for collaboration between investigators and to identify specific priorities in laminitis research for the next 10 years.

Visit the AAEP Foundation Web site to see the complete 2009 AAEP Foundation Equine Laminitis Research Workshop report, summaries and related articles.

The FREE Stomach Ulcers in Horses report dives deep into the issues of this condition that’s more common than you might think. he FREE Stomach Ulcers in Horses report explains the biology of the equine digestive tract and why it is more prone to ulcers than other species.