The F Word

Founder (or laminitis). It’s a word that strikes fear into any horse owner, but much like its evil cousin colic, it is a rather vague term that can stem from a long list of root causes. Let’s talk about what laminitis is, what causes it, and how we can respond to it.

What is laminitis?

Within your horse’s feet, there are laminae structures that help secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall. If these important structures weaken or become separated due to lack of blood flow, they can become inflamed and alter the shape of the coffin bone. As you can imagine, the health of your horse’s feet is vital to their overall wellbeing as these small parts support a very large mass. Laminitis can vary in severity, but it is always considered a critical case due to the pain it causes the horse and the fact that time to intervention is critical for long-term success.

What causes laminitis?

Unfortunately, horses can’t talk to us about when their hooves begin to ache, so researchers have spent decades unraveling the mystery of the underlying cause. Common acute causes include:

  • High fever
  • Severe colic
  • Retained placenta after foaling
  • Abrupt changes in diet
  • Excessive weight bearing on one limb (likely due to an injury in another limb)
  • Grain bingeing episode (horse breaks into the feed room) 

It is easy to look at the symptoms of laminitis and write it off as a lameness condition, but we must equip ourselves to understand that this condition presents first at a microscopic level. Many of the underlying causes relate to a horse’s lack of a proper and consistent nutrition.  

How do we as horse owners respond to laminitis?

With the threats of colic and laminitis ever looming over our horses, it is imperative that horse owners understand their horse’s normal and monitor them closely for subtle changes. The quicker a deviation can be detected, the faster medical help can be sought, and the greater the horse’s chance of survival.

Watchful caretakers can be on the lookout for hooves that are hot to the touch or distorted in shape, an increased heart rate, a shortened stride, and excess or lack of foot lifting. Prevention comes in the form of providing a proper diet for horses, keeping grain bins securely stored, maintaining routine hoof care, and gradually introducing horses to new pasture situations.

If you suspect your horse is experiencing laminitis, you must seek medical attention immediately. Luckily, there are many treatments available such as dietary restrictions, mineral oil, antibiotics for underlying infections, therapeutic bedding options, and corrective trimming by expert farriers. We implore you to not lose hope as many horses have bounced back from severe episodes of laminitis and still had riding careers. Thankfully, we are surrounded by experts who can help us and help our horses onto the road to recovery.

The Bottom Line

There are so many seemingly random and hard-to-control variables that can negatively affect the wellness of our horses. As owners, we must empower ourselves to learn about these conditions so we can spot them early and act quickly, but it’s impossible to always be at the side of our horses. This is where technology can be our greatest ally.

The NIGHTWATCH® smart halter™ learns your horse’s normal biometrics and behavior patterns – yes, it can understand how they act at certain times of the day versus others. When their metrics steer away from that normal, you get alerted. You also have access to real-time and historical data so decision making can be made clearer. This can be a powerful tool to help you identify certain conditions like laminitis sooner, and we want to help you monitor your equine friend. Buy your smart halter™ today and begin understanding your horse better than ever.