The Decision: What to do with a severely foundered horse?

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The Decision: What to do with a severely foundered horse? - by Gwen Santagate - May 2019


The decision of what to do with our severely foundered horses can be a really, really tough one. Do we allow them to try to recover with acute treatment and care while they remain in a painful state during the recovery? Or do we spare them the pain and discomfort that they are experiencing?  

This is a really tough decision.

The first thing I want to say is, let "no man" make that decision for you. Only your horse can do that. And they do. They DO tell us when it's 'their time'.

Diego’s Story

A quick example from one of my own dear horses. Here is Diego's first x-ray. He was 19 years old at the time.

Now, that's about as bad as a foundered hoof can get. This is just ONE hoof on this horse. The other hooves were absolutely fine. He had sunken in this hoof, he had recurring abscesses, his coffin bone had been destroyed. Yet here is a video of him moving just a couple of days prior.

Diego is the horse with the white stripe/blaze. You can see he was not ACTING like he was ready to pass. When my vet saw him he just shook his head and said, "He's not ready at all!" 

When a 23-year-old pony foundered and recovered

Not quite as bad as Diego's but pretty bad all the same. Now below we have the progression of recovery:


The pony mare stands comfortable after about 5 months from the initial founder. 

This little pony mare had perforated all 4 hooves. (Diego just his front right hoof.)

Most people would strongly suggest that either one of these horses be euthanized humanely. However, neither one was. Diego passed 4 years after his initial founder but from toxic mosquito spraying. He had just that year come round to full soundness and we were just getting back under saddle with him.

The little pony mare is still going strong! She was 23 years old when she foundered and that was 8 years ago so now she is 31 years old!  She is still giving light pony rides to young children who are struck with the "horsey fever".

Careful trimming and hoof care for another case of founder

One more case. This also was a 23 year old horse. The top x-rays were his initial x-rays taken in March. I started working on him in June; the bottom x-rays were taken in July. I was trimming him weekly.

He, also, perforated all 4 hooves.  By December he was getting along okay and able to move about his field well. The expectations were that by springtime he'd be able to carry his small rider for very light rides. Unfortunately, I was called away for a family emergency and his care was turned over to another hoofcare practitioner who put him in special wooden shoes. In January the horse slipped coming out of his stall to a wooden floor and his back was broken. He was humanely euthanized then. His "case" was presented by his veterinarian during his winter lectures as to what can be done for severely foundered horses and done with careful trimming without shoes. 

So those are 3 severe cases. I have dozens of others that were not so severe as these but pretty close and the owners had been advised to put their horses down to spare them the 'pain' or because they were deemed to be unable to be saved. The owners decided, instead, to call on their 'last resort' and call me. I only wish they would have called as a FIRST resort. All sorts of pain and heartache could possibly been avoided. But happily, the horses survived and all went back into 'work'.

I first addressed Laminitis and Founder here:


There are other articles on laminitis in this blog, as well. Please do a search for "Laminitis" and you'll find them easily. 

Caring for your foundered horse

Taking care of a foundered horse is not an easy task!  It takes grit and determination as well as a fully supportive health care team! It is individualised  according to the individual horse and the owner! It may take weekly trims or bi-weekly or maybe every 3 week trims. One cannot allow the horse to go more than 4 weeks between trimming and that is really only in the most least severe cases.

The diet is paramount to helping a horse recover from Founder.

Formal Stages of founder

By the way, Founder is formally the 3rd stage of Laminitis. There are 4 stages of Laminitis. MOST horses will go through a bout with Stage 1 which is called the developmental stage and the owners will have no clue until they see a ring or two around the hoof about and inch or 2 down from the coronary band. Developmental Stage happens with no clinical symptoms and most frequently self-resolves in a day or so. Stage 2 Laminitis is acute stage where we see the lameness, the bounding pulse, the heat, the swelling and sometimes, depending on the cause of the Laminitis, it, too, can self-resolve. A chemical-induced laminitis from vaccines, de-worming or other chemical pharmaceutical or even environmental toxicities can, if the horse is initially healthy, resolve within a day or two. The acute stage of Laminitis, if not resolved in 48 hours then progresses to the founder stage. If not tended correctly this can then progress into a chronic founder stage - stage 4 laminitis.)

Laminitis - the word simply means, Lami = Laminae; itis = inflammation. So, "inflammation of the Laminae".

The importance of diet for the foundered horse

Taking care of a foundered horse may mean soaking hooves, walking the horse carefully, providing special boots and cushioning for the hooves, did I mention diet?  Diet is all important. It may mean purchasing special 'treatments', hours of ROM and stretches, hours of vigilance, massage and body work to help the horse get rid of the kinks and spasms that occur from compensating for pain. For some horse it may simply mean turning them out and letting them move! For others, it may mean, as in one of my client cases, having a dump truck load of pea stone delivered so the horse can stand comfortably while his hooves recover. It may mean putting filters on your water sources. Or extra hauling of warm water during horrible cold miserable weather. 

Again, it ain't easy.

YES, Laminitis is painful for the horse. The hoof capsule is not comprised of material that 'stretches' to allow for inflammation within the foot. As the disease progresses, circulation is compromised, necrosis takes place and that can cause pain, as well. The pain is not, in itself, a horrible thing .. .it actually prevents the horse from moving in a manner that would further damage the hooves. Just as fevers are not, in themselves, horrible things because they body heats up to kill any foreign pathogens. But it is painful for the horse to have gone into a state of Laminitis. It is very painful for the horse to go through Founder.

Chronic Founder can be uncomfortable for the horse but does not always have to be a dire situation.

As you saw in the video, it would reason that, with that kind of damage to the hoof, that Diego would have been DEAD LAME!!! But, he wasn't. He also was not on any sort of pain relief. He was uncomfortable at times, yes, but was his spirit saying "I'm done! I can't take this any more?"  Not by a long shot. He lived another 4 years after that and his spirit was as good as it gets. He was never stalled except by choice. He was allowed to be out in his herd. He had no processed feed or supplements at all - just fresh forage along with 24/7 hay, minerals and salt. He got herbs to support his liver and kidneys, he was treated with essential oils for his abscessing and, at one point blew up with cellulitis that traditional treatments did not touch but more 'natural' treatments resolved in 7 days. Yes, veterinarian observed and noted.  The little mare was never stalled; she, too, was taken immediately off all processed feed or supplements and given the same fresh diet with herbs, hay, minerals and salt as Diego. The same applied to Charger - they ALL wanted to live! The little mare is still thriving. Charger, after he broke his back, he let his owner know he was done. And so did Diego when he went down after being poisoned and never got up again.

The hardest decision

It's always a very sad and very, very difficult decision to make - whether or not to humanely put your horse down. I've had to do it more often than I like. In reality it is the ultimate gift we can give to our horses when there is no chance of survival.

So, how do you know there's no chance of survival? In some cases it is blatantly apparent. In others, they know . . . . . . the horses know. And, your horse will tell you. It will reach down into your heart and there will be no mistaking when he is whispering to you.

I highlighted a few of my worst cases here and, hopefully, it will help someone to make a decision one way or the other. But remember,

The horse knows. 

Your horse will tell you. 

I wish you blessings and peace no matter what you decide should you ever have to make that decision. Let peace rule in your heart and your love fill your horses' heart.


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the world-renown author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" and "Natural Hoof Anthology" as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:

Gwenyth is available for freelance assignments, contract work and consulting.

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