Founder on Early Spring Grass

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Q: I have a horse that shows no real signs of founder other than he seems to be walking on eggs, especially on hard ground. This horse is an 8 year old Paint (Geronimo's War Paint) who has never been off in his life. At first we though perhaps an abcess, but it seems to be on both front feet. There is no heat and to most, he is not off. But if you know the horse, he is. We are in SW VA. For the past month it has been quite mild and grass is starting to grow in patches, but it is not even close to being lush. i have 2 other horses who have foundered in the past, and i didn't think it was time to take them off yet. They are all still on hay (good quality Orchard grass), about 25 lbs per horse. My question, can these small patches of green growth be enough to make a horse ouchy, or should we be looking elsewhere for a reason for his lameness. He is worked regulary and has not had anything occur that would cause founder, other than his exposure to grass. He has been in this smae field since we got him as a 3 year old. I would really appreciate your input. Thank you.

A: I could not fail to give you my input. I mean, we are talking about Geronimo's War Paint! His welfare is of great concern to me.

If you indeed suspect founder as a possibility, you should immediately call your veterinarian and/or your farrier, if the farrier is regarded by you and the community as knowledgeable and skilled. If not, just call the vet. There are many factors that can influence a horse's susceptibility to founder such as obesity, hypo-thyroidism, etc. Perhaps your small amount of spring grass could be causing laminitis when it might not normally do so.

You gave me a lot more information than I get from most people who e-mail me and I really appreciate it. It gives me a picture of the horse. Unfortunately the picture is still a little blurry… There are many factors that become immediately clear when the horse is right there to look at and touch, but you can not possibly remember to mention them all. So, I will give you the best input I can.

When I am called out to look at a horse that exhibits vague symptoms similar to what you describe, I immediately put into action what I like to think of as my Roadside Sobriety Test, testing the horse's physical dexterity and soundness.

First I take an over-all look at the horse. If I see nothing amiss there I go a little further. I pick up all 4 feet and clean them out, looking for obvious causes of lameness. None found…here comes that Roadside Sobriety Test. I would like to see the horse walk and trot on firm ground, whoa and back up. You can tell an awful lot about a horse in short order.

If there is nothing obvious yet, I go to hoof testers and hammer testing. Still nothing obvious, I start looking up the leg. I begin by flexing the pastern and fetlock joints in all directions. Next I palpate extensor and flexor tendons and so on, up the leg. I palpate the neck and back, pull the horse's tail, stretch the legs fore and aft.

Haven't found anything so I check the horse for navicular disease by using a hoof tester and a test using an 8' 2x4 board that is placed under one of the horse's front feet. The opposite foot is raised up off the ground. I grasp the 2x4, 8' in front of the horse and tilt the board upward which causes tremendous strain on the navicular bone. If the horse remains on the 2x4 and doesn't slam down the foot that is being held, I do the same test on the opposite front foot. If the horse slams the foot to the ground or hops off the 2x4 due to obvious pain, we must strongly suspect navicular. Since navicular frequently shows itself when the horse is about 7 years old, War Paint is in the high risk group.

If the horse ignores the 2x4 test and I haven't found anything else, I would advise you to call your veterinarian and I would hire the best veterinarian there is in my community. I mean, we are talking Geronimo's War Paint here!

Now, if your middle name is frugal or you don't have the funds and you are looking for a cheap way out, you could get your farrier to shoe this horse with wide web shoes and full heavy leather pads. Pack the front half of the horse's foot with Forshner's Hoof Packing, nail on the shoe and pad, and fill in the remaining void with clear silicone caulking. Duct tape the back half of the hoof to keep the silicone in until it sets up. You can take the duct tape off the next day. Take your horse off the grass for a week and give him no more than a cup of grain in the morning, a cup of grain at night and all the water and Orchard Grass hay he wants.

If he appear to be the same after a week you are gong to have to call the vet. If he appears tremendously improved, you can reintroduce him to the pasture, beginning with 2 hours a day for the first 2 weeks. If all goes well, increase him an hour every week thereafter until he is out full time again.

Now, I have answered your e-mail as if this horse were my own. This is what I would do for my horse. He is, after all, my namesake. As coincidence would have it, I almost bought a Paint a couple years ago and I was going to change his name to War Paint. I was very disappointed not to be able to buy the horse. So, you have got my War Paint. Please keep me informed as to his condition, his health and his happiness.


Geronimo Bayard
The American Blacksmith
Oakland, Oregon

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This entire web site is copyright © protected.  © 1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard, © 2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.