How to Successfully Pasture a Foundered Horse or Pony

How to Successfully Pasture a Foundered Horse or Pony

If our pony were a car, it would be a lemon. She is a cute animal but chokes on dirt, hay, and long Grass. In the spring and summer, she also suffers from the Founder.

What is a Founder?

The condition is excruciating and can cause lameness, inflammation, and other severe problems with the foot. The disease is caused in horses and ponies that eat Grass containing large amounts of sugar or starch.

When a vet says the word “founder,” many equines immediately get fed hay on a dry lot or are put in pastures that have been overgrazed and contain little to no green grass. Although this treatment can sometimes be necessary, many horse and pony owners do not fully understand Founder’s meaning.

Learn how to keep grass-founded horses and ponies in pasture throughout the year.

Your Equines, Laminitis, and Founder

The horse’s hoof has approximately 600 laminae. These soft tissues connect the coffin bones to the inner wall of the foot. The coffin, or pedal bone (P3), is located behind the hoof wall, at the front of a hoof capsule. It is an integral component of an animal’s hoof. This site shows the anatomy of the equine foot and the coffin’s location. ( WARNING This link contains images of anatomical structures that some may find graphic).

The laminae are strong enough to support the weight of an animal running while remaining flexible, allowing the hoof to grow around them.

The laminae of a horse with a founder die from inflammation. The coffin bone may become loose from the wall of the hoof and can twist downward or even puncture the sole. The condition can either be acute or chronic.

The Founder can be extremely painful to horses. It’s like ripping your toenails out and walking tiptoe with a 500kg backpack (1100 lbs).


The pain your animals experience from a Founder condition is extreme. After the acute symptoms had been treated, their pain was reduced, and they could move freely; we put our foundered horses on pasture. These tips are based on personal experience and do not replace the advice of a veterinarian.

Founder vs. Laminitis

Veterinarians and horse owners are divided on the meaning of laminitis and Founder. Others say that laminitis can be acute, but the Founder is chronic—some claim that the term founder only describes the rotation or sinking of the coffin bones.

We use the common vocabulary in this article and interchange these terms.

Laminitis & Founder: Causes and Treatment

Most equines get Founder from Grass eating during the wrong season and growth stage. It is also known as pasture-associated or grass-induced Founder.

Laminitis or Founder can be caused by

Unresolved injuries to the hoof or improper trimmingSeptic infection, severe diarrhea or colic or another intestinal disease

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Other causes are more obscure. According to reports, the Founder can be caused by respiratory infection, certain drugs, or too much beet leafy greens.

Talk to your veterinarian to determine the type of Founder that you have. This article is about grazing horses with grass-induced laminitis. However, these suggestions may worsen other forms of laminitis.


Any hoof can be affected by laminitis. Laminitis can affect the front feet, rear feet, or all of them at once. Laminitis can be diagnosed if you observe any of the following symptoms:

Legs extended or under the body for a stiff or painful gait. Inability to stand. The hoof wall proliferates. Foundered horses often have a curled foot because the toe grows faster than the heel. Hoofs often buckle or twist in the wrong direction

Call the vet immediately if you suspect a problem.

How Grass Growth Affects Founder and Laminitis

Equine founders can occur when they eat grasses or legumes high in non-structured carbohydrates (NSC). These carbohydrates are made up of sugars, starch, and fructans. The carbohydrates a horse consumes end up in the hindgut, where they ferment. This inhibits blood flow to the feet. This article explains the process.

Although sugars, starch, and fructans are present in all grasses, their concentrations are exceptionally high during:

The Grass is directly in the sunPhotosynthesis is required to produce starches and sugar. The Grass will have more NSC if the weather is warm and sunny or grows in full sunlight. The Grass proliferates sugar is needed for rapid growth. Sugar content increases as Grass grows faster. Spring growth is terrible. Later in the day, the Grass has all day to produce the sugar that makes up the NSC. As the night goes on, NSC levels will decrease as the plant converts or consumes the NSC. The nights are excellent, and the days are hotpants produce sugar in the daylight. The plant either converts the sugar into starch or finishes it at night. The plant needs a lot of sugar to survive during hot nights. However, if the nights are fantastic, the plant won’t require as much sugar to sustain itself and will still have more sugar in the morning. Spring is terrible, as the days heat up and the nights remain cool. At the stalk bottom, the majority of sugar is stored at the bottom of each blade, which measures 7cm to 10 cm (3-4 inches). Seed heads have formed on the forgiven before the seed heads have emerged; they contain a large sugar concentration. After a frost, forage can contain high amounts of non-structured carbohydrates and harm horses and other equines. A stressed plant’s low growth is caused by drought, poor soil nutrition, or herbicides. The plant will still produce sugar even if it grows slowly. Obesity Overweight animals are more likely to collapse.

Eight Tips for Keeping Your Foundered Horse on Grass

With careful management, it is possible to keep pasture-founded horses on lush, green, grassy pastures!

Keep your ponies on pasture by following these tips:

1. Call the Vet

Many vets do not recommend pasturing laminitic animals. However, the first thing you should do if your horses suffer from laminitis and need a diagnosis is call your vet to get a care plan. Anti-inflammatories and pain medications may sometimes be required to ensure your animals’ health.

Many foundered horses should also be stall-restrained and not allowed to walk, mainly when the condition first develops. If the acute infection is severe, the horse must be stalled or kept in a dry area until the inflammation has subsided.

Follow the advice of your veterinarian before you put your stricken animals out on pasture.

2. How to Find a Good Farrier

Foundered hoofs proliferate, becoming long, curled, and twisted. This can cause the Founder to become worse and damage the tendons and ligaments of the horse’s foot and leg, causing more pain and stress. All year round, we have a farrier visit every eight weeks.

Finding a farrier that understands animals with foundered feet is essential. It took us four farriers to find one who could trim our foundered horse properly.

3. Cloudy Days are Perfect for Grazing

Because Grass grows more starch and sugars when the sun shines, it is best to pasture your animals on a pasture that has shade. If you have an equine susceptible to foundering, dedicate a field with trees to them during the seasons when photosynthesis will be at its peak.

Research in the United Kingdom found that NSC levels were reduced significantly in pastures after two weeks of cloudy weather. This means the animals can graze more freely when it is dirty.

4. From 3 AM until 10 AM

The best time to graze animals is between three and ten o’clock in the morning.

The Grass will have had the entire day to produce sugar, so the evening and late afternoon are the worst times to graze.

We let our ponies graze between 5 am and half past 10 pm, as getting up at 3 in the afternoon to let them out was impractical.

5. Pick Grass

You can feed your horses Grass instead of hay if you must confine them. When the sugar content of the Grass is lowest in the early morning, pick it up and store it in the shade until you need it.

Put the Grass you have picked into a handbag (see below).

6. Rotate pastures carefully

Rotating pastures is moving animals to different fields at various times during the year to maintain the height of the Grass. This will reduce the risk of a founder.

You want your animals to graze the entire pasture so they don’t go to seed.

Horses have a reputation for selecting the best Grass. The regrowth grass is sweeter and will encourage horses to continue overgrazing the area. Rotating pastures can prevent this overgrazing.

A careful rotation of pastures will improve soil fertility and help to maintain healthy NSC levels.

This article discusses the importance of pasture rotation in detail.

7. Use a Grazing Muzzle

Using grazing muzzles is a controversial technique for managing horses, but it can save lives when trying to keep foundered horses on the pasture.

The purpose of grazing muzzles is to reduce the amount of Grass an equine consumes. This means that foundered horses can still eat some grass but not enough to cause their stomachs to be overloaded with sugar or starch. This means you can often leave them on pasture instead of locking them up to hay-feed them.

Here are some tips for using grazing muzzles.

Keep the Grass short: shortThe Grass should be around 10cm (4 inches) long. The dog cannot get the Grass into the muzzle if it is shorter or longer. This can make eating very frustrating and challenging. The Grass should be approximately 10cm (four inches) long, plus or minus a few millimeters. Please do not leave them on for the entire day. Grazing muzzles are only to be worn for 10 hours maximum per day. Be on the lookout for behavioral changes. Your horse or pony is not likely to love the grazing muzzle. Sometimes animals will display inappropriate or aggressive behavior because of the new tackle. The muzzle on our pony caused her to become aggressive. After a few training days, she learned this new behavior was unacceptable. We then decided to give her a rest from wearing the muzzle. Only for horses and poniesDonkeys should not be using muzzles that graze. A donkey’s muzzle is more likely than other animals to become tangled. While most have a breakaway clasp to prevent this, it can still be dangerous.

8. Use a Hay Bag

Hay can cause foundering in horses, mainly when it contains a lot of clovers. Our pony suffered from acute Founder for the first time during winter. We fed her with a bag of hay.

Hay bags are mesh bags with a large opening that limits how fast animals can consume food. Hay bags come in various sizes, with varying holes to suit your animals’ size and eating habits. Hay bags are essential for us in the winter but are also needed in the summer. Consider putting hay in a bag if you feed your animals in their stalls or dry lots when they aren’t on pasture. This will limit their intake and reduce their chances of launching.

Foundered Pony Grazing Plan

We followed the advice of our vet until our pony’s acute symptoms improved significantly. Everyone told us she would never be allowed to graze again on pasture. By incorporating the above tips, we were able to have her out on the range and rewarded with seeing her gallop across the field on once-stricken feet.

This is the grazing schedule that we use with our bred animals.

From 5 am to 10:00 am: Place the animal in the pasture (without using a grazing muff).

From 10 am to 9 PM9 pm: Place on a dry lot or stall. (We used an overmature grass pasture from last year that was full of dry Grass).

Overnight Place the animal in the pasture with a grazing muff.

The schedule can make this regime difficult, depending on whether you work or attend school. This is only an example of how we kept our animals as close to pasture as possible. You can experiment to find what works best for you and your horses.

The challenges of grazing horses

Many people believe that Grass causes Founder, so they put their horses in a pasture with a concise grass cut. The Grass will be eaten to the ground. By keeping the Grass short, forage remains in a state of rapid growth and is, therefore, full of sugar. The horses are likelier to snort or ingest dirt by eating the Grass on the ground, which can cause further health problems.

This article may have given you a little hope that your horse or ponies will play in pastures with their herd.

The author has done his best to ensure that the information in this article is accurate. This article is not intended to replace veterinary medical professionals’ formal advice, diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment. A veterinarian should see any animal exhibiting symptoms or signs of distress.

Matt Suh

As your go-to expert for everything one-of-a-kind, Matt is here to help you capture and share life’s most important moments. Find thoughtful gifts, creative ideas, and endless inspiration to create meaningful memories with family and friends.

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