Warding Off Hospital Founder
I recently received a call from a new client. This man was in tears on the phone explaining that they had just put down a valuable racehorse due to founder. I have to admit, I almost started crying right along with him because I was pretty sure that my partner, Tony Miranda and I could have saved that horse.
His story was common. His horse foundered in the equine hospital while being treated for a relatively minor condition. Let’s examine why this happens. First, founder is the sequela of severe inflammation within the hoof wall. This inflammation undermines the integrity of the connective tissue within the hoof allowing the coffin bone to turn loose of the support structures. What this means is that the bone within the hoof turns loose of its supportive structures and begins to drop toward the ground. If not treated properly, that bone can drop right through the bottom of the hoof.
In order for the hoof mechanism to work properly, the horse must be moving. So stalling a horse is just inherently detrimental to the health of the feet. That is the first problem with hospitalizing horses that leads to founder. The second problem is stress. Horses in a hospital setting are under a great deal of stress no matter how wonderful the facility and how nice the staff. On top of these, add multiple medications generally including antibiotics, flunixin meglumine (Banamine®) or 'bute', all of which can have very negative effects on the health of a horse’s gut. I have to admit that I am not sure what most equine hospitals feed their patients today, but in vet school (longer ago than I want to admit) they fed hay and processed sweet feed.
All of these factors (except hay) are a recipe for founder. If you were trying to create founder in the laboratory this would be a great way to do it.
What can we do to prevent founder in a hospital setting? We can start by pulling the shoes and doing a proper barefoot trim, which will allow the hoof mechanism to function as normally as possible under the difficulties of hospitalization. If the horse can be hand walked, then do so, and let him wear hoof boots for comfort if needed. Studies have shown that magnetic leg wraps greatly improve circulation to the feet.
There are ways to reduce stress in the hospital setting. Things like massage, Equine Touch or TTouch go a long way to connect with and calm a stressed and worried horse. Daily brushing and grooming make many horses feel better. The use of Bach flower essences and aromatherapy can also be very beneficial. Allowing the horses to see other horses will also help reduce the stress within the barn.
You can’t do much about the use of antibiotics and other drugs unless your equine veterinary hospital employs or works closely with a holistic practitioner. But you can reduce the negative effects of these drugs in several ways. The first is the use of large amounts of probiotics and digestive enzymes. The probiotics and enzymes replace those being destroyed by the antibiotics. Remember antibiotics are not specific for pathogenic organisms. They kill the good with the bad. Free choice hay will keep the horse occupied and lower his stress hormone level. I love a product called maca; it is an all-natural Peruvian root vegetable that has wonderful adaptogenic properties. It balances the hormones and supports the adrenal glands allowing the horse to better manage his stress level. As little as 1 tablespoon daily really helps. Restricting processed pelleted feeds and sweet feeds will also prevent problems with the gut flora. Once the gut becomes diseased, the elimination of toxins is impaired resulting in toxemia that leads to inflammation that ultimately settles in the feet.
Once the coffin bone begins to rotate, most veterinarians and farriers are under the impression that it cannot be reversed. But the good news is that even the most severe founder can be successfully treated and returned to soundness. Barefoot is the key!
Tony and I were recently called to examine a high dollar racehorse that we will call Bob. We were told that Bob had "sore feet". What Bob had was bulging soles, and the radiographs showed rotation. Also, the coffin bone had actually split under pressure. We pulled the shoes, Tony worked his magic with the trimming, and we turned him out in a large paddock.
Well, before you could shake a stick, we were getting calls from people we didn’t even know questioning our methods, telling us we had lost our minds pulling the shoes on a foundered horse. We were told we needed to put him in heart bar shoes, that he was getting bruised from walking on the hard ground. When we explained how the hoof really works and that those bruises were the damaged tissue within the hoof finally coming out, they scratched their heads and started to think about things. We did put Bob on some Chinese herbs to help with the discomfort and aid healing. I am happy to say that after only 6 weeks, Bob is trotting around his paddock.