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How to condition a foundered horse

Once a horse or pony has foundered it is not the end of their usefulness. Careful management of their diet, health, hooves and environment can ensure that they can perform in their discipline for many years to come.


Assuming an animal has foundered or not, and continuing the same feeding and management practices is quite neglectful. If you see several symptoms of this disorder consult your equine veterinarian whom will examine your horse and advise you of severity and a management plan for you and your horse.

Several symptoms or “tells” can include being obese, remember your condition score chart, (CS5). I would look at several key areas of the horse when condition scoring an animal. Firstly the neck/crest, if it is hard and pronounced, along with a channel through the hind quarters you will generally have an obese horse.

Horses which stand rocking back on their hindquarters trying to relieve stress and weight off their front end may be suffering from laminitis.

Also horses with an increased digital pulse in their hooves may be suffering the first signs of a laminitic attack. A nice and simple step by step guide on how to take a digital pulse is located on the equisearch website. ( If you are unsure of this consult a veterinarian.

Movement of a horse who has suffered a laminitic attack can range from mild changes in movement (ie stepping short or a reduce length of stride) to the severe case where the horse does not want to move. In this circumstance do not encourage a horse to walk or get up as this may further damage the laminae. This a time when veterinary advice is required urgently.

Feeding The Laminitic Horse

As with all horses we need to asses a few key criteria before deciding what and how to condition our laminitic horse.

We need to look at their:

  • Current Condition Score and weight
  • Target Condition Score and Weight
  • Severity of Problem
  • Age
  • Discipline / Workload
  • Pasture resources and environment

Using the condition score chart, a weight tape or better still a set of scales we can make an assumption of the horses weight and condition score and work out how much weight and condition we want to add or subtract from our animal.

Of vital importance when we re-condition our animal is that we do it gradually. Sudden weight gain or loss can have deleterious effects by triggering more laminitic events. The more times and frequency of this, the more damage is done to the horse. Many minor attacks may cause just as much damage to the horse than one large attack.

After a veterinary examination we can assess the severity of the problem and work with a diet and exercise program to start rehabilitating the horse. Again with diet as well as exercise slow and moderate is the most beneficial approach. If a more serious condition is diagnosed it would be advised to also consult a registered farrier who will be able to correctly trim and or shoe the horse. This will enable the horse to exercise and get back to fitness with the least risk on continual damage to the hooves.

The age, discipline and workload has a major effect of what we can feed our horse. Age, for example young horses have different nutritional requirements such as protein and energy as well as increased mineral requirements for development. Older horses may face other challenges such as poor dentition and reduce digestion capabilities. Discipline and workload will also play an important role in deciding what we feed our horse. As with conditioning a horse will require more calories / energy to be fed as will an increased level of exercise. An example of this will be a horse in moderate work (FEI dressage, eventing, campdrafting or polocrosse etc) will require 50% more calories per day than a sedentary horse just sitting in the paddock.

When we asses the diet of a horse we can not just calculate what we give it in a 20l bucket. We have to asses the pasture quantity and quality. A simple grab test of pasture will give us a basic guide to quality. If it is soft to grab it will be of a higher quality than a dry stalky hard to grab pasture. This is because the more digestible fibre of pasture is soft to grab. Obviously a sure way is to send the pasture off for analysis. If you are going to do this I would analyse the pasture during autumn, spring and summer to get a good reflection of your pasture.

With horses that have been laminitic short 5-15cm pasture should be avoided as this is pasture in its growth stage and will be at its highest sugar concentration. Either eliminate most of the pasture or put horses in a tall “rank” pasture, which has very little sugar content per kg of dry matter.

What To a Feed laminitic Horse

All nutritionists will agree that high fibre / low starch diets are the best way to condition and manage horses with laminitic problems.

A high fibre diets will consist of moderate quality roughage such as moderate quality pasture, cereal or Lucerne hay, chaffs and prepared feeds designed to be high fibre, low GI or approved for laminitic horses.

A guide would be to base your feed with 1-1.5% of the horse’s body weight with moderate quality roughage such as mentioned above. If the horse requires additional calories ask your nutritionist for the best prepared feed for your horse.

Always bear in mind that nutrient ratios must be maintain to balanced the diet especially horses that are recovering from bouts of laminitis as their body will require nutrients to repair connective tissues of the hooves. Several supplements in the market place are available to assist in the recovery program. The will be high in essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine, biotin and minerals such as zinc, chromium and antioxidants.

When assessing prepared feeds for your horse. Always look at the feeding rate as well as the nutritional levels of the feed. Of special importance for the horses we are trying to feed is the starch level of the feed. This may be represented on the label as Starch or NSC. Some feeds may even have a Glycemic Index rating. Feeds designed for laminitic horses should be below 15% starch. Horses, even laminitic horses will still require carbohydrates or starch to function; we just need to limit the type and amount we feed them.

Constant monitoring of your horses condition and diet will be required as horses that have had laminitic attacks in the past will be more predisposed to suffer this challenge again. If you are unsure if your horse has suffered or is at risk of foundering please consult your veterinarian, farrier and nutritionist for nutritional and management advice.