Feeding the Laminitic and Foundered Horse

Trimming is a Feat

Exercise and Riding is Neat

But it’s in what they Drink, Eat and in what YOU Feed…

That Make Their Hooves and Their Feet!


We do feel it is important to briefly touch on the terms “laminitis” and “founder” since it is fairly common to hear people in the horse communities transposing these words as if they are the same thing.

Laminitis and Founder are NOT the same condition, so we are going to refer to them on our site as separate entities.

Laminitis is inflammation of the attachment…Laminae (hence the term Laminitis) that keeps the Pedal Bone in place inside the hoof capsule… founder waiting to happen!

An easy way for you to remember might be if you think of laminitis as a condition that can happen without resulting in founder (the inflammation in the laminae can be cured before it is too late).

Founder on the other hand can take place as a result of laminitis.

Here is a brief description of each:


See our Pages under Anatomy for you to understand where the laminae is. Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae. The laminae are the tissues that connect the Coffin (Pedal) Bone to the hoof wall, bars, frogs and heels. A laminitis attack is a very painful condition for a horse to go through and it can occur in one front foot, two front feet or in extreme cases all 4 feet, although most often it will be in the front. The reason for this is due to the weight distribution of the horse, as 60 – 70% of their weight is on their front feet.

There are many reasons for laminitis to occur (to be discussed later) yet recent studies show that a laminitis “event” can very often be associated with the initial symptoms of Cushings or Insulin Resistance (IR). Regardless of cause, horse owners need to know what to look for and what steps to IMMEDIATELY take in order to minimize the damage.

This is no random event. Statistics show that in the USA alone, over 1 million horses will suffer from laminitis. So if you own a horse you need to get savvy on this problem. The only bigger beast is colic. So by familiarizing yourself with laminitis you will be better prepared if and when it shows up in your horse community and there is a very good chance that if you are around horses you will see it first hand.

This was a big wake up call for me as I was always under the impression that laminitis (and oh yah.. I use to call it founder before I got educated!) was the result of a horse getting into grain by accident or from being turned out onto juicy spring green grass (which can be the cause too).

I was always very diligent when placing my horses out on spring pasture yet I knew NOTHING about winter laminitis – nor even heard about it for that matter. This condition completely puzzled me. It is like that feeling you get when you know something is wrong but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

When I found Tommy lying in the snow during the early winter months my first reaction was that he slipped on the ice and had sprained something or I thought that maybe he had been kicked by one of the other horses. When you think about this it doesn’t make any sense, does it? I mean how often do you even get to see your horse laying down and why on earth would a horse lay down in the cold snow?!?

I then started to notice other strange things like the fact that Tommy’s hooves would leave a perfect melted impression in the snow. You know, like he had really hot feet. I still didn’t get it even though the problem was staring me right in the face because I had just never heard of winter laminitis and neither had anyone else at the stable! Like we say on this site “you can’t know what you don’t know”.

So learning is everything and we are here to share everything we know.

I even mentioned the “snow impression hooves” to my farrier (at the time) and his “knowledge” just meant more of a delay in Tommy’s diagnosis. He told me that “Arabs have hotter feet than other horses”….emoticon of face with eyes to heaven placed here!

Hmmm… yes …believe it or not I bought that. After all, isn’t a farrier what you consider to be the expert on horses’ hooves?

Do yourself a favor and do your own research. You can ask other people questions… yet if their answers don’t make sense and are not supported by the professionals, keep looking for the answers that makes sense to you. Then test your answers to know and not just assume and make it your own knowledge!

Ultimately it was this condition, being winter laminitis, which was waving the big red flag confirming that Tommy had Cushings disease…


The word founder comes from a latin word meaning “bottom”. I have also read that the mariners would use the word “founder” to mean sink. That could be why some people will refer to a foundered horse as “a sinker”.

This is because founder takes place as the laminae in the hooves (both sensitive and insensitive) looses its bond and actually dies. Thus the coffin bone (now you know why we have anatomy pages) loses its attachment to the physical hoof capsule. This results in catastrophic damage to the hoof. In extreme cases the coffin bone will actually rotate downward and can penetrate the sole while sinking downward to the ground. This is probably where the term “sinker” came from.

Founder is a painful condition and horses will be noticeably uncomfortable. I have seen a horse use a manure pile to try and position himself so he could stand using the grade/angle of the manure pile in order to try and get more weight off his front feet. You may have also heard of the “founder stance”. Horses will stand with their front legs more forward and leaning back, especially when they have foundered in all four feet in an attempt to take the weight off their painful toes.

I have even seen where they appear to be holding their front feet out in front of them with their legs almost locked in an attempt to get the weight off their feet.

And of course, eventually they will lie down as they just can;t stand anymore.

So just be aware that the horse will try to do what it can to help itself in this situation and you need to be aware of when your horse is standing or walking or being different to his normal. Stop and ask yourself, is this laminitis.

Horses that are going through founder are stiff, they don’t want to move and if painful enough they will lay down. The other tell tale sign is a pounding digital pulse which will be visible (and can be felt) at the digital artery located above the fetlock joint.

Learn Here How To Check Your Horse’s Digital Pulse

If you find a horse in this state you must immediately do everything in your power to reduce the damage being caused by the inflammation. If possible hose the feet with very cold water. If you don’t have a hose bring a 5 gallon pail and try to get the horse to stand in the cold water. Alternate the feet. If the horse is laying down and you can’t move him and have no hose then try ice bags.. anything.. be resourceful.

Anything you can do to get the heat out of those feet (or foot) will help.

Don’t force the horse to move. He is in a lot of pain. Unless absolutely necessary allow him to rest where he is. If you really have to move him take it slow… be patient and kind. He is suffering. Put yourself in his position.

As for pain killers. I am not going to recommend, approve or disapprove of anything since each case and each horse is different and you will be seeking the assistance of a veterinarian to determine the best course of action. What I will tell you from my experience is that I had to be really careful with the use of painkillers (ie. Bute) with Tommy since once I removed the pain from his feet he would run around his pen like there was a forest fire behind him.

So just remember about that when you give any pain medication. Is your horse in an area where his mobility is limited or could the removal of the pain give him a false sense of being OK and cause more damage and pain once the Bute wears off?

Finally, please make us a few promises:

1. Please DO NOT STARVE your laminitic horse – slow feeders are best to give them access to food 24/7!

2. Please DO NOT replace your horse’s feed with straw!

3. Please seek the assistance of your local vet!

4. Please email us if you are at this site, looking for additional help, and currently have a horse going through a laminitis “attack”. We will direct you to some great resources to help you through this. When the trauma is over and it is time to learn about the importance of a proper hoof trim, you can come back to us and read about our success stories.

Finally, a great vet, Dr. Kellon, wrote an emergency diet pdf which outlines the emergency diet requirements needed by a laminitic horse.

 Linda Chamberlain wrote on Nov 21, 2015

Thanks for this interesting article about laminitis. My mare suffered an episode of lami in September after they broke out of their poor-grass track and got onto the rich-grass middle. She’s still slightly lame and is on zero grass and ad lib hay but not confined in a stable as I have a large yard and field shelter which she is sharing with a friend. Her hooves appear pretty good and she’s a typical lean TB so it just shows all sorts of horses can be affected. Signs of slight separation on one hoof at the outside quarter (I think it’s called) rather than toe and of course this is filling with grit and stones. If I can pick her foot up for long enough I clean and fill the hole with hoof putty but it’s a struggle at the moment.

Any tips?


Linda Chamberlain Nov 21, 2015

Hello Linda,

Thank you for taking the time to write to us regarding your TB mare. Having personal experience in this we know how upsetting it can be to see your horse in pain.

Please know that all of our suggestions are given in good faith and from our own personal experiences. We mention this so that you know we are not veterinary trained.

That said, the first thing that stands out is that you mention the laminitis attack occurred in September and now, being November, your mare is still lame.

When a horse suffers a laminitis attack it is very important to remove the root cause. From your message it would appear that you believe your horse’s laminitis was the result of being out on lush pasture. Does she have any prior history of laminitis? Since September, did she ever become more sound or has she remained sore?

The reason we ask this is if you have removed the source (which you believe to be the grass) any reoccurring “attacks” should have been eliminated.

Have you had her trimmed since her laminitis event?

With respect to a post trim, although we really advocate barefoot trimming, we do not know the condition of your horse’s feet nor what resources are available to you. We would simply suggest (and strongly) that any and all means to bring the hoof into a healing state is done to the best of your abilities. There are many options to assist a sore horse during this time such as, for example, the use of hoof boots.

We are truly passionate about horses being barefoot, yet we need to remind everyone that being barefoot alone does not necessarily mean that they have been trimmed correctly. That is where the inspiration for our site came from. We want horse owners to have the knowledge to understand how the inner mechanisms of the hooves work so that they can identify what is right – and what is wrong with their horse’s hooves.

We regret that our answers may just give you more questions! Yet that is how it works and we can all learn from this.

Would you be willing to provide us with a little more information? It would not only help us to help you but it will also help any fellow horse owners that happen along our site with similar circumstances.

If so, please let us know the following:

– has she ever been tested for metabolic issues and/or Cushings?

– How old is she?

– you say you are filling a hole with putty. Would you be able to send us close up pictures of the hole?

(Please refer to the “taking pictures” in the Trimming section of our site for other pictures that would be helpful)

– Have you always had trouble picking up her feet or do you believe this is due to pain?

– Have you checked for a digital pulse?

– Do you know the sugar and starch content of the “ad lib” hay you are feeding?

Finally, here are some additional links to some great resources:



Thank you again and we look forward to helping you further.

Johan & Alison