Founder in Horses. Symptoms and Causes

Jessica McDaniel
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What is Founder in Horses?

Founder is a serious condition of an equine, which results in an inflammatory condition of the connective tissue of the foot, specifically the interdigital septum of the foot.

In other words, as the horse walks or runs, weight is transferred from one foot to the other. The bones of the lower leg respond to this weight transfer by moving the tibia in response to the pull from the non-weight-bearing foot. When that happens, the horse may develop laminitis because of the mechanical pressure on the sensitive laminae.

In some cases, the foot of the non-weight-bearing foot stays in place longer than the foot of the supporting foot. The former hinges back causing it to turn inward bringing the walls of the hoof together (pointing the hoof toward the centerline of the horse’s body). This is referred to as “pigeon-toed.” If the foot stays in this position too long, the sensitive laminae may die due to the pressure below.

What Causes Founder in Horses

Founder is a physical condition, whereby a horse suffers from the inability to walk normally because it is in pain and its muscles are affected. It is usually as a result of laminitis. One of the hoofs may be higher than the other and it is not unusual to find the horse favoring one side over the other.

In most cases, it is associated with very poor management of diets and the walking surfaces. The soil on which horses are housed, may not be suitable and they are very likely to suffer from pneumonia.

Laminitis results from changes in the balance of the digestive microorganisms in the gut and the simultaneous overgrowth of yeast cells. If you are looking into purchasing a horse, you should always investigate their background and ask how they have been fed and housed. If you have a horse, you should ensure that they are examined on a regular basis.

Symptoms of Founder

Founder is an angular limb deformity where a horse’s front feet turn inwards. Depending on the severity of the founder, the horse can be lame, stiff or have trouble moving around or even standing up.

Founder starts off as Equine Metabolic Syndrome or Panosteitis, which are often caused by grass founder. The horse can eat less yet gain weight, and may lose potency in the hindquarters or the whole of the hindquarters.

Signs of Founder in Horses

Founder is the term for the inflammatory condition of the back of the foot, hoof capsule, and some of the structures of the lower limb. It occurs in several forms ranging from mild to severe. Some of the early symptoms are subtle and often unnoticed by the owner. The more severe cases manifest themselves immediately.

Lameness is usually the most common early manifestation. The horse will attempt to relieve the condition by resting for a while and then returning to its previous level of activity only to have the lameness recur.

Internal signs are usually not exhibited by the horse. These include swelling and pain just above the hoof. X-ray investigation will sometimes reveal the cause of the lameness. In minor cases the condition may resolve itself. More severe cases will require corrective measures to control the inflamation and pain. Surgical removal of the inflamed tissue is commonly used in the most severe cases of founder, where medical treatment has failed.

Treating of Founder Horse

Horses with founder (laminitis) have the following signs:

  • Lameness
  • Swelling (around the cannon bones and pasterns)
  • Heat (redness and/or warm to touch)
  • Soft and very moist manure (called "sweet" manure)
  • Ruptured blood vessels under the hoof
  • Quietness
  • Hunched back
  • Restricted movements
  • Hind feet with dull claws
  • Sore mouth (could be a secondary sign of poor nutrition and/or hind gut issues)

Founder symptoms in horses can range from mild to severe and there is a wide range of possible causes. These causes are related to both management/husbandry and management/gastrointestinal problems.


7,000 to 10,000 years ago – Creates first horses using selective breeding.

6,000 to 8,000 years ago – Introduces a moderate amount of daily exercise, but horses still were used as the main source of food.

4,000 years ago – Horse saddles and other items are invented, but are not used regularly.

400 years ago – Horses are bred for racing and performance.

1930 – Ponies in ponies and horses in horses are being used more for pleasure than work.

Preventing Founder

Founder is a serious condition in horses characterized by a severe lack of blood supply to the hooves, which eventually results in the separation of the hoof, known as laminitis.

Founder can be very painful and sudden, so if your horse has an incident of founder, monitoring their condition and administering supportive care is important.

Controlling the horse's diet is most important if you suspect it is a founder case. This includes eliminating any grain, concentrates, and sugars until the veterinarian has examined the horse. It is imperative to consult your veterinarian if your horse has an episode of laminitis to help prevent the chance of their condition from turning into founder.

Although founder is less common in older horses, founder can still happen to adult horses. Quick action on your part if you suspect founder is critical. You need to maintain their weight, provide supportive care, and consult your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your horse has founder.


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Pigeon & Bird Control …………………………………………………….1

How to Clean a Smoker ……………………………………………………..2

Mothballs Make a Great Pest Repellent. ………………………………..3

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Shake A Litter Box? …………………………………………………………4

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