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Your Horse and the Spring Grass

Spring time can be beautiful with its flowers and new grass growing to cover the barren land.
It can also mean disaster for your horse if he is sensitive to how he metabolizes the sugars in grass. During the Spring, sugars in the grass your horse consumes can spike at up to 30%!!!
Thats an incredible amount of sugar when you factor in that our horses digestive system are designed to eat 16-17hrs a day.
Founder is a word that becomes a common term thrown around during this time of year.
Founder and known as Laminitis is, in a simplistic definition, it occurs when too much sugar or an overload of grain/grass/corn/etc. are consumed at one time causing an overpopulation in hind gut bacteria that make its way to the sensitive laminae of the feet. In the case of the sugars in the grass, when these sugars overload the digestive system these bacteria populations explode. The abundance of bacteria (needed for digestion) and die off of these bacteria imbalance the nature of the hind gut and consequently affect the laminae in the hoof creating inflammation. This inflammation essentially kills the laminae connection between outer and inner hoof wall and hoof wall ripples, heat in the foot, pronounced digital pulse, and flat sole are common outward end results of this whole process. That and the very well known "founder stance".
horse stands rocked back on hind legs with front legs gingerly out in front of its body.
So what can you do if you suspect your horse has foundered??
Get a hold of your barefoot hoof care specialist to administer a trim to help alleviate some of that pain and discomfort. A call to the vet may be needed for pain management but I find this can add to the problem as the Bute typically given can cause ulcers and affect the already turmoiled feet. But in some cases its the lesser of two evils when your horse is in agony.
Have your trimmer help you figure out what went wrong. Did the horse get into the grain bin? Are there any fruit trees producing that the horse could have overindulged in? In Fall, acorns are a good culprit too. Is your horse out on lush, green pasture?? Or even overgrazed grass barely an inch tall?? This grass stays stressed and will hold its high sugar content.
Now how can treat the foundered horse?
Next step, listen listen listen. Your trimmer should be knowledgable in Founder and their prescription for treatment can be the difference, in extreme cases, of life and death for your horse. I don't say that to scare, its just the facts.
The best treatment for success in a foundered horse is to cut out whatever has caused it in the first place. This can be simple if the cause was merely a feed door left open and the horse went nuts when no one was looking. But in the case of the pasture horses, it can be a lot of work to get your horse healthy again. The best case scenario is a dry lot. A dirt paddock with no grass for teh horse to keep feeding the bacteria explosion and causing more problems for their feet. Hay, water, and a good vitamin/mineral supplement. THATS IT!!!
The most severe cases of founder are the ones that have been left in a field and founder year after year. Coffin bone erosion can occur and then the horse has no chance of ever growing a healthy, normal foot from then on. Even if someone finally intervenes and breaks the cycle. I think dry lots can save many horses, and have saved many horses. I've also seen horses recover nicely in a dry and then the owner thinks "ok, their fine now. no more founder stance. he can go back out in the pasture" or my favorite one "he looked so sad in there with no grass" and the horse gets turned back out into the pasture and founders again. repeating the cycle and putting the horse through another round of immense pain and digestive upset.
A good point to keep in mind too is that it will take 9-12 months for that horses's feet to grow completely out and be 100% healthy again. So for some horses, just as their getting that good hoof back in all the way to the ground, the spring grasses come in and the cycle starts over.
So whats my point here??
Avoiding Founder is the best way to treat it, really. Be smart about your horses eating habits and anticipate the new grass as a problem. If you can keep your horse off that grass, do it! If you can't, grazing muzzles can help. They will limit how much at one time your horse can eat therefore reducing the over all intake of sugar in each bite. Gorging horses can't restrict their mouthfuls and therefore increase the amount of sugar they consume in a day. By limiting the the amount of grass your horse can get in one bite you're giving him the ability to forage in a full field. If that makes sense. They're nibbling instead of mouthfulling.
Take home message: Avoid Founder if possible. Dry lots are awesome, my horse lives in one year round and is 100% sound and healthy now. Something not acheivable on grass for her. If you horse can't be dry lotted, like in a boarding situation, use that grazing muzzle or allow your horse to be out during hours when the sugar is at its lowest point in the grasses. for more information on that and other equine nutrition information visit
Hope this helps some of you in your battle against Founder/Laminitis and maybe has given you a little more knowledge on the subject so you can have the upper hand.

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