Understanding the functions of a healthy hoof and why metabolic problems as discussed above can manifest in laminitis and founder. Remember prevention is better than fixing, as there is a lot of avoidable pain in between.

It is quite concerning that progressively more ponies and horses are affected by this condition every year, despite increasing awareness amongst horse owners and more and better research.

What are we missing?

Without getting lost too much in the science and “trade lingo”, we need to find a way to summarize, understand and get better in preventing and more successful in treating laminitis and founder!

Owners and professionals need to work together, where owners must start to take responsibility more and professionals must educate more.

It is often too late for a swift recovery without permanent and lifelong consequences once the professionals have to get involved! Prevention is paramount for a lifetime of soundness.

There can be a number of “metabolic trigger events” that can affect any equine breed to become vulnerable and succumb to this debilitating disease.

Generally there are two major reasons: One of these or both in combination are ALWAYS present when laminitis occurs:

A compromised/stressed metabolic system
Compromised hoof physiology and biomechanics

Is Laminitis (the inflammation of the sensitive laminae, which is the living metabolic tissue inside the hoof capsule) and Founder (the breakdown of the suspension matrix with consequent displacement of the pedal bone) a modern day epidemic?

As spring comes around, we will just concentrate here on what is commonly known as “GRASS FOUNDER” and how you can recognize if your horse or pony (or donkey) is at risk:

  • Is your equine in excellent condition right now (mid/end winter), perhaps even a little on the heavy side?
  • Do you pride yourself to provide the best feed, stabling, good or improved pasture and rugging all year around
  • Have reduced exercise activity over winter
  • Is your equine approaching maturity (not growing any more)
  • Has your equine ever suffered from laminitis before
  • Could there be any imbalance or circulatory problem in the hoof (here it is important for owners to learn what a
  • healthy hoof should look like and how it functions)

If you have agreed with any of the above points, YOUR HORSE MAY BE AT RISK.

No, don’t get me wrong: It is not “good husbandry” that renders well-cared-for equines vulnerable to laminitis – but the reason can quite simply be “meaning too well” and providing consistently too much of a good thing.

No matter how well bred your pony or horse might be, its biological make-up is still the same as that of a horse that lived millions of years ago: It is equipped to adapt to winter conditions so its body systems are ready to receive the gifts of spring with nature providing rich and nutritious food in order to build up condition lost over the poorer months …you get the picture.

Your equine was not meant to be in top condition all year around. There is constant change in nature, an up and down.

The dilemma is this: We, as caring owners, eliminate almost all the stresses of winter, the nutritional down-time and we keep our equines in top condition, warm and cozy …. BUT NATURE STILL PROVIDES. It does equally so in the wild, as it does in your paddock.

So what is it that nature provides, particularly in spring, and in your paddock that can be so dangerous to modern – well cared for – horses?


In plain English: The sugars found in plants when they grow (the process of photosynthesis).

There are many great articles and books written about this process. Please read this cross-reference produced by the RIRDC (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation), a free E-Book written by Prof Chris Pollitt (leading laminitis researcher) and Kathryn Watts

Generally, our modern horses – and often those that come out of winter in top condition, succumb to metabolic stresses during the ingestion of “nature’s gift” in spring when plants grow and prepare to produce seeds and therefore have the highest levels of NSC.

Note that it is not possible to determine just by looking at it, which types of pastures have higher NSC levels since there are so many variables including grass species, soil content, precipitation, possible draught stress, irrigation, and sunlight – even time of day, that influence these levels.

You might want to “just slash it” but be careful! Heavy grazing and mowing can make matters worse (stress!) .

So what are the best strategies to prevent laminitis and founder?

Don’t turn your horse into a metabolic time bomb feed sensibly – energy input should match energy output, for starters. Don’t let him/her get obese! (Human society suffers many of the same problems)

Balance supplements, because too much of a good thing can become a bad thing and burden the metabolism.

Reduce processed feed and change to wholesome feed (sounds familiar?)

Be aware that medications including wormers have to be processed by the body and can actually stress an already overloaded system, a trigger that may break the camel’s back.

Be aware of any metabolic build-up on crest and quarters (cellulite pockets)

Restrict access to Founder Paradise; lush green and improved pasture by:

Track – or strip grazing (partition part of the paddock without restricting room for self exercise.

Teach your horse, pony or donkey to accept a muzzle

If you are already control feeding (e.g. hay ratios in a dry paddock or yard) because your equine is a risk candidate, start soaking the hay to wash out the sugars (sugar is water soluble, while proteins are not). NOTE: “Crappy” or just grass hay can be very high in sugars, so don’t let appearance fool you!

Provide metabolic support by offering probiotics, herbal or homeopathic remedies that assist the system to “de-tox” and to restore healthy blood-chemistry and support liver and kidney function.

Understand your horse’s biological requirements; domestic versus natural lifestyle exercise and movement

Last but not least: Make sure your equine has healthy feet by: Learning to identify the difference between good and bad hoof shape and balance (take charge and responsibility – become involved, no matter how good you think your hoof care provider is!)

Plan in Winter…
to stop pain in Spring

by Carola Adolf, NEP/fSHP 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for educational/general discussion purposes only. The information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Nothing listed within Eques magazine should be considered as advice for dealing with a given problem. You should consult your vet for individual guidance for specific equine health problems. Eques cannot stress enough that with serious health or behaviour problems of your horse, you should seek professional qualified advice.

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