Treating Founder (Chronic Laminitis) without Horseshoes, Section 15

Version with full-sized photos

RX FOR ACUTE LAMINITIS--and trimming aids and tools

Based on what I now know about laminitis, I now feel that treating an acute episode includes:

Some professional-grade farrier supply sources in the USA (but not a complete list)--

Mid West Farrier Supply, 811 East Eagle Road, Beecher, IL 60401, Phone: (800) 946-9880, (708) 946-9469

Dayvon Supply, 14 Safford Hill Road, Greenwich, NY 12834, Phone: 518-692-1041

Ken Davis & Sons, 367 East Blagrove St., Richwood, OH 43344, Phone: 740/943-2335, 800/421-3109

Centaur Forge, Ltd., P.O. Box 340-V, 117 N. Spring St., Burlington, WI 53105-0340, Phone: 414-763-9175, 800-666-9175

You can shop online for farrier tools at:

The Horses Hoof also sells some farrier tools and horse boots:

Compound nipper source:  (These have more leverage than regular nippers.)

One method, used more in Europe, is to have one person steady a hoof on a hoof stand while the other person trims.  When you actually use a hoof stand, keep one of your feet on the base to steady it. This is a good idea, especially if you are not strong.  I personally can't both hold a foot up and work on it at the same time very readily.  Having someone else steady a foot on a stand so I can concentrate on just using the tools is a big help!

Power tools can help trim rock-hard feet faster:
Dremel grinders are small, and good for precision work, but too slow and weak to take a lot off.  They are available at home improvement stores everywhere.  Opening cuts and lowering bars are a couple of uses for them.  The narrow cone-shaped bits with slightly rounded tips, both in steel and aluminum oxide, are very useful:


Dremel bits on right that are useful for trimming: 3/8" #952 oval aluminum oxide grinding stone, and 1/4" #117 oval high speed cutter.  Their 3/16" #454 chain saw sharpening stone is helpful for roughing in when sharpening hoof knives.  The factory edge on a lot of hoof knives is set at too high an angle to be really sharp.  You can file it down with a diamond file by hand, too, but can save some time with the chainsaw sharpening stone.

RotoZips and Angle Grinders are more aggressive and powerful tools.  Don't try these unless you are handy with tools and handling horses, and have first practiced using them on wood.  Hands-on instruction from someone experienced with either of these tools is recommended!  Some clinicians teach using power tools: 

RotoZips by Bosch are a larger, more powerful version of the Dremel.  (I call them "Dremels on steroids.")  They are also in home improvement stores.  You would use a similar shape bit.  When a horse is on hard, dry ground ground, the top layers of sole are extremely hard and tamped.  Skimming a little of the outside layer off with a power tool will enable you to use a hoof knife more readily beneath it, where the sole is not quite as hard.  This is especially useful if you are working on a horse with overgrown feet.

4-1/2" Angle Grinders.  Bob Creel, former SHP, has been a farrier for many years, and has excellent skills handling horses and tools.  He is using an angle grinder for most of his trimming.  He feels he can replicate natural wear via abrasion better with a grinder than a hoof knife and rasp, and feels he can trim quite often, taking a small amount off with finesse.  I cannot recommend this to someone who is not handy with tools and horses, though.  He founded an EMAIL LIST (now run by Phil Morarre) where you can learn more about this method, and find someone to get some hands-on instruction first, which I really recommend. Bob in action:

He uses a zirconium flap disk from (Bob uses a T-29 zirconium disk, which has a slanted surface. The slanted surface allows you to abrade the sole and bars easier by tilting the grinder. He uses a 4-1/2 inch -24 grit for draft feet, and a 4 inch-40 grit for saddle horse feet.)  Grinder Bob Creel uses from Harbor Freight.

Smallest, lightest angle grinder (by Milwaukee Tools)
You'd want to remove the side handle and guard, and use 4" flap disks, not 4.5" disks.

Grinder switch converter for Cummins grinder
(his top pick for angle grinders): Click HERE
Sold by Phil Morarre, whose abrasive trim site
also sells
a nice how-to video on abrasive trimming: Click HERE
(Phil also runs the abrasive trimming yahoogroups list.)

Proxxon mini-angle grinders are a smaller version, relatively quiet, and extremely handy for doing bars and soles!

Proxxun angle grinder

The grinding wheel is 2" in diameter.  It would be handier with the guard removed.  For more photos and specs:
You can find reconditioned ones on for less money.

Foredom grinders are used by equine dentists.  The motor housing is separate, and can hang on your belt.  There is a flexible shaft connecting the motor to a light-weight, handy shaft that is easy to handle and control.  The motor is pretty quiet.  It's just more money.  Dremel used to make something similar, but it has been discontinued, and the Dremel flexible shafts don't hold up as well as the Fordham shafts.  Here is one source I know of, but I am sure there are others: or call 402-989-4022.  They don't have the right shape burs, though. They quit carrying the Foredoms, and are now carrying Makitas.  The Makitas are a little more powerful, and but not as quiet.  They claim the Foredoms can give you a shock when plugged into incorrectly wired outlets, and the Makitas won't.  I never did have a problem with my Foredom, although it was very annoying that the belt loop's screws kept backing out of the motor housing, dropping the motor, and screws getting lost on the floor.  The flex shafts are vulnerable, and it's good to have a spare on hand.

For the right shape burs with 1/4" shanks, go to:

My Foredom grinder and a usefully shaped bit:


More available in hardware stores are Roto-Zip grinders, which also take 1/4" chucks.  The flexible shaft model is easier to use.

For more money, you can get a more powerful Suhner flex-shaft die grinder.  Here was one in use at a Laminitis Conference wet lab:



Be sure to wear a dust mask!  You can get by without using one with a Dremel, but angle grinders and die grinders can raise a lot of dust.  Eye protection is also recommended.

I modified a Makita 5" disc sander for 4" zirconium flap discs.  Model GV5000, 3.6 amps...and only 2 pounds 10 oz.! (1.2 kg)  Plus it has a paddle switch exactly where it's handy--there are no modifications needed like the Cummins 6758 angle grinder.  I had to reduce the diameter of the round black plastic part that backs the sand paper from 5" to just a little less than the diameter of a 4" zirconium flap disk, using a bench grinder.  I had the black plastic backing disc spinning in a horizontal plane, and the bench grinder wheel spinning in a vertical plane, when I used the grinder to reduce the diameter.  This sounds easy, but it took longer than I thought it would.  Still, it turned out fine.  I bought this sander at Home Depot.  It has slightly more power than the Cummins 6758 grinder, which takes a little getting used to.  It also has less vibration and noise than a lot of angle grinders.  Its very compact, maneuverable shape is easier to use if you have small hands.

Click HERE to see how I modified this 5" disc sander to use 4" zirconium flap discs.

Hoof Knife Sharpening Tips!
(Why beat your head against a brick wall with a uselessly dull knife?)
Great how-to video! In a minute or 2 with a bench grinder, he gets his knife sharp enough to shave the hair off his arms,  and slice through leather pads much more readily than it did right before he sharpened the knife. He emphasizes what angle to hold the blade to the buffing wheel...close to 20 degrees.

One caveat: if you try to sharpen the hook on the end of the blade, it can get hung up in the muslin wheel and jerk the knife out of your hand.  In the video above, you'll see he avoids getting the hook in the muslin wheel.  You can address that with a fish hoof sharpener from any sporting goods section.

Please also note that he has his muslin wheel turning away from him, not towards him.  This is not the usual way people usually use bench grinders, but makes hoof knife sharpening  more controllable.
This shows sharpening your knife with just a ceramic grit sharpener. Slower than a bench grinder with buffing wheel, but he explains things well. He mentions not using files and scrapers, which can be tempting because they are more aggressive. He prefers ceramic grit sharpeners, which are similar to fish hook sharpeners, etc. Good entry level sharpening info if you're not going to spend the money for a bench grinder. He also talks about putting a 20 degree blade angle on the beveled side of the blade.

None of them angle the flat side of the blade; they just go over it once over lightly, flat, to take off any burrs that formed when sharpening the beveled side of the blade. If you do angle this side of the blade, you will, in effect, make the edge of the blade a bigger angle, and therefore, less sharp.

The pros are using bench grinders with muslin buffing wheels, and two grades of buffing compound--the final one being the finer white polishing compound. The video shows a guy with huge strong hands and arms sharpening his knife. If even HE needs his knife to be that sharp, certainly we do!  I know...we're all balking at the idea of investing in a bench grinder, and hope some $10-20 hand-held sharpener will do as well. The truth is, it won't. :-(  You can actually do some damage to your blade with sharpeners that are too fast and coarse, like scrapers.

Cheap knives have poor grade steel in them. They won't take a good edge, or hold a good edge. It's not worth it to economize on your knife. The knives you get in tack stores and feed mills are usually not good steel. Buffing wheels and polishing compound can be purchased at home improvement stores--you don't have to get them from professional farrier supply houses. But you will probably have to go to farrier supply houses to get professional grade farrier knives.  There are plenty of links for online ordering at farrier supply houses here:  The F. Dick knives are a good choice...

Other trimming aids:

A hoofjack, which is actually better to work with than some other designs (lower and more stable, more comfortable hoof sling), is from:


The Hoof Holdup, designed by a veteran horse shoer, who has this to say about it:  "The adjustable heights are about 15--1/2", just right for using in front, and on smaller horses, heavily muscled horses, and older, arthritic horses--16--3/4", for quarter type horses, and 18" for TBs, warmbloods, and other larger horses behind.  I have made over 400 Holdups, and these heights are the result of feedback from a great variety of users.  The Holdup doesn't have any sharp edges, or anything that should injure a horse. I have been a horse shoer since 1965, worked at racetracks since 1974, and took all that experience into consideration when designing the Holdup in 1996. I made the first to help shoe some small Arabians, and some old-type quarter horses with the heavy muscles and short legs, while working in Texas. I was amazed by how well they liked the Holdup.  Actually, I still am. That was the beginning of the Holdup. Currently, I am the horseshoe inspector at the San Francisco Bay Area racetracks. I am 65, have had, and still am having, a great career with horses, and the Holdup is my pet project for life."  To get a holdup, contact


Adjustable legs removed in second photo.  Not current model, which is similar, but better.

A surprising number of people are using stools, cradling the horse's hoof in their laps.  This is a low-key, non-threatening method that many horses accept surprisingly well, and is a lot easier on your back.  Martha Olivo, pictured below, using a rolling stool from the Walmart auto supply department, with her trusty Dremel grinder at the ready on the bottom shelf.  This seems more dangerous than it really is.  I have heard of farriers holding forefeet between their knees being lifted into the air when a horse tucks his front feet up tightly to his body and rears.  It may seem safer to hold a foot between your knees, but not necessarily.  Personally, I think the larger rolling mechanic's stools from Sears, with bigger casters and a wider base, are far more usable.

For the REALLY SORE horse, a sling is a safer and more humane alternative. It is painful for the horse to lift a foot for you to trim; this is far more humane because it takes weight off the foot not being trimmed.  It is safer because he cannot fall on you.  

The alternative of working on a horse's feet when he is lying down is dangerous for the average horse owner.  However, in the right hands, it is do-able.  Below is a photo of Nancy Filbert, a Strasser certified hoofcare specialist in Antigo, WI, trimming a horse who has been trained to lie down by Tracy Porter, a John Lyons Select Certified trainer in Milton, WI.  The hoof is resting on a bucket so Nancy can get at it better.  Although the photo does not really show it, she is positioned so her head is out of range of his feet. Click on links below for contact info for:  
Nancy Filbert  and  Tracy Porter 
As Nancy does not check her email every day, if an emergency, Click here

This horse was so relieved after the first trim that he was able to stand and offer a foot the next day.  His trim was frequently maintained and other follow-through on walking, etc., was good; he was remarkably improved after 3 weeks.

Tracy Porter helping Nancy Filbert trim a very sore horse.
Months later, this horse was cantering.

A sling enables one person to humanely trim a severely sore horse; you won't need a lot of people trying to help him remain standing when you trim.  David Montana makes these and can sell you everything you need.  Contact him at: (304) 924-5897 More info:


David Montana's sling being used on a foundered horse.
Left--the sling secured on the back BEFORE lifting, making it do-able
for one person, and harder for the horse to back out of once lifted.

Center--horse partially lifted in the sling--enough to take some weight off, but not dangle.

Right--The "pre-fitting" ropes no longer holding sling up after hoisting.

 Plans for building a sling yourself--David Montana's design.


Dave with his APECS stockade...more APECS Info
The APECS stockade has, among other uses, training,
gentling and hoofcare applications.)

The above sling is the type used in veterinary hospitals, and is manufactured by Liftex, Inc.  It is a superior design, as the horses cannot back out of it or sit down like dogs, but it is more considerably money and a special order.  (Once you are on their products page, click on the Specialty Slings tab.)

Click here to see Liftex sling in use, for both standing and recumbent horses

Another veterinary type sling from Wiggins (currently $1050-1225, but check for current prices):
(They sell a number of different slings to lift a variety of livestock.)  

Wiggins sling

I have also gotten correspondence from people who have had the vet knock the horse out to enable trimming while lying down in desperate cases.  The people I heard from were really happy with the results--a horse who had been down constantly was standing almost normally and getting around pretty well as soon as he was trimmed better.

A case where a horse was too sore to stand for trimming

Post in my guestbook:

I'm not sure if you answer these or not. I showed this article to my boyfriend, who is a Certified Master Farrier. He's been shoeing for 35 years.  [....]   A good friend of ours called up after his horse had foundered and been taken to the vet. The horse has a 10 degree rotation. The vets dobbed off the toes (severely) and taped on a heel support. When Danny started to trim the horses feet he noticed a horrible abscess on the sole in the toe area. And it had also came out the coronary band. The abscess was a gray smelly pus and covers a large area of the sole. He relieved the pressure, but is wondering how much abscess in the sole can be accepted with severe founder. The vets around here hadn't heard of a case of founder that had abscessed this badly. Their suggestions were to put the horse down. This poor horse is in extreme pain, laying down more often then not. Almost impossible to even lift a foot let alone trim one. Any help would be extremely appreciated. Sincerely

A thrilling update!--

Date: Sunday, March 26, 2000 11:32 PM
Subject: Re: the foundered horse your husband is working on


Thank you so much for answering my letter. We had talked to some vets and they'd suggested euthanasia. So we went out to try and save the horse. The horse was laying down flat out, he was in a tiny pen on rubber pads. The horse looked like he had given up. The vet gave the horse a tranquilizer shot and my husband proceeded to trim him lying down. The sole in the one front was not attached to the foot clear back to the quarter bars and peeled off. It didn't show any noticeable tenderness or abscesses in it. Unlike the other front that was still infected, but had a clear discharge, unlike the gray discharge earlier. He lowered the heels 3-4 degrees and shortened and rolled the toes. He wanted to minimize the stress on the deep flexor tendon. Beings the horse hadn't been standing in 2 days and he'd even been eating lying down. When he did stand his front feet were out as far as they'd go and his back feet were clear up where his front feet should have been. After he trimmed his front feet he put medical boots on them with a cotton pad with ichmathol on it on both feet. He pulled the shoes on the hind and did the same trim, beings they're foundered too. It took a couple hours for the drugs to wear off. We finally got him up and he was actually standing almost naturally. He seemed insecure in using his front feet, but after a short time he was actually doing better. A miracle!! From flat out on his side to actually standing almost normal. We suggested he put him out to pasture with his stable mate and then spread his grass hay in little piles way apart for self exercise. And then walking him as much as possible. We also suggested an awesome vitamin to help grow healthy hooves. We plan on going back in 4-5 days to set up a maintenance program. Any suggestions or corrections would be highly appreciated.

Sincerely Robin

P.S. I'm sure Tink thanks you, too, and I will let you know of further progress.

I also have used an Amish shoeing stock from Yoder’s Horseshoeing Stocks, 3024 County Rd. 70, Sugarcreek, OH 44681, 330-893-3102.  Because the Yoders are Amish, this is not a home phone, but a phone booth outside the shop—let it ring 15-20 times to give them time to get outside and answer it.  You need to train your animal to co-operate in the stocks gradually.  Blow-ups in the stocks are definitely a possibility if training is rushed.   However, this stock enables someone like me, with limited strength, to do my own farrier work.  It holds the feet up and still so I can concentrate on working on them.  It is made of solid oak, and weighs around 1000 lbs.  I actually do a lot of my work sitting down on a bench with my tools beside me.

Shoeing Stocks--a huge help!


Left, Max's front foot tied up in stocks.
Right, Schmo, 4-yr.-old 17 hh draft mule, with hind foot tied up in stocks.
OK, I admit right now they don't like being in this contraption!
  But it makes it possible for me to do their feet despite my limited strength. 
They can lean on it, but they cannot fall.  They also can't buck or rear.
For a horse so sore he can barely stand, stocks can prevent him from 
falling on the farrier.  However, I prefer slings for very sore horses.

Click here for shoeing stock building plans
(The version with 4 posts permanently sunk into the
ground is cheaper and easier to build, and safer to use.)

  1. Pull the shoes.

  2. A dose or two of activated charcoal can be very helpful.  (UAA Gel can be a real help pulling toxins out of the gut, if done in time.  Toxins in the gut, which can result from a number of causes, are often involved in laminitis.)

  3. Cold therapy--soaking a horse's feet in cold water, or standing him in a stream, can ease pain, and actually reduce damage.  I attended an interesting lecture by Dr. Susan Kempson, where she showed microscopic studies of laminae, both normal and in laminitis. She noted that the laminitic microscope slides showed edema, which was crowding the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the laminae.  She recommended cold therapy, which is in line with what generations of farmers have been doing--many have tied laminitic horses in creeks for a couple of days, just bringing them hay, to help an attack blow over with less damage.  Further, more and more studies are showing that timely cold soaking can prevent laminitis even after it is experimentally induced with carbohydrate overloads or administering black walnut extract.  To be effective, the feet have to be soaked up to the knees and hocks directly in ice water.  The old farmers' lore about cross tying a horse in a creek for a couple of days and just bringing him hay to get a laminitis attack to blow over has some foundation in scientific fact.

  4. If your horse is on rich feed...this has to be stopped.  Getting your hay and grass analyzed can be very helpful.  More info at:

  5. Do a trim that follows the form of the underlying structure. One thing that gives barefoot trims a bad name is that they often are done without adequately rolling the edges, particularly in the toe area, leading to chipping and too much leverage on the laminae. Another thing that gives barefoot a bad name is how tattered feet become when the horse is not wearing his feet down enough, and he is not trimmed very often...especially if the heels are left too high. Trimming every 2 months when the horse is not getting enough exercise on abrasive terrain to keep himself worn down, as wild horses do, results in massive excess growth.  Many people seeing how much high-heeled barefoot horses have their walls chunk out, especially in the quarters, also think this means that while some horses can go barefoot successfully, theirs can't.  This is the result of heels and quarters being left too high, and no quarter scooping being done.  Done right and done often, trimming will enable the hoof to remodel back into a more normal shape, better than anything else.  Another often-neglected aspect of the average barefoot trim is not shaping the frog, bars and sole correctly.  High bars, in particular, can result in heel pain.  I recently trimmed a 3-year-old with big, folded-over bars.  He had to be pushed to trot before I worked on him, despite the "protection and support" of those folded over bars.  After I took the heels, frogs, and bars down, the soles very thin in the bar/heel triangle, and actually down to corium in the heel-bar triangle ("seats of the corns") because folded-over bars crush the sole so much it cannot grow.  He had to be held back under saddle after he was trimmed despite nicked corium in one bar/heel triangle of his soles.  This shows how much more excessive, folded-over bars can hurt!  I have also seen horses whose owners carefully lowered the heels to get the 30 degree hairline slope, but left the frogs and bars higher than the heel walls.  This results in considerable pain, and a lack of hoof mechanism.  Trimming the bars and frogs so they are passive to the heel and quarter walls gave the horses obvious relief.

    Putting more weight on the heels is something that many foundered horses instinctively do to take weight off their toes.  One of my boarder horses, who foundered several times, always got swelling around her deep digital flexor tendons when she foundered, because she was trying so hard to walk on her heels.  This is how a horse instinctively tries to get the bottoms of his coffin bones ground-parallel.  The stocked up legs might also have been due to reduced circulation during laminitis.

  6. A wild horse-shaped foot entails more filing than many average trim jobs to create the mustang roll and do precision paring. A little help for ones back during these lengthy procedures is a good thing!  Using sharp, professional-grade tools instead of the dull ones you get at tack and feed stores, can make the difference between trimming being feasible...or impossible.

  7. I personally recommend UAA Gel (or some other form of activated charcoal) to absorb gut toxins.  Since so many causes of laminitis result in gut toxins, which in turn trigger laminitis, UAA Gel (Universal Animal Antidote Gel), is usually a good idea.  More info:  UAA Gel

  8. Walking or standing the horse in a creek or cool mud can be beneficial during an acute attack.  Many vets recognize the value of cold therapy to reduce inflammation during acute laminitis attacks, when the horse has hot feet and/or bounding pulses.  Anything that reduces inflammation can help restore circulation and reduce damage to the laminae.  Some people have had improvements during an acute laminitis attack just keeping a horse standing in a pond or creek for a couple of days...this is a traditional treatment farmers have used for years, cross-tying a horse in a pond or creek until things settle back down.  I have heard from people who only iced the front feet during an attack...and then later had more problems with the hinds, which had not gotten cold therapy at the time it would have made a difference.  I attended an interesting lecture by Dr. Susan Kempson, where she showed microscopic slides of laminae, both normal and in laminitis.  The laminitic slides showed edema, which crowded the blood vessels in the laminae, reducing circulation inside the hoof capsule because it is not stretchy enough to accommodate such swelling.  She felt that cold therapy definitely had a place in acute laminitis, which explains why traditional treatments like standing horses with laminitis in a creek have worked.

  9. WARNING!!!   Giving a number of prescription drugs simultaneously can result in the horse stopping eating and drinking.  Giving high doses of bute and banamine together, for instance, can lead to complications like ulcers, resulting in the horse eating and drinking less and less.  This can lead to dehydration, which in turn can lead to colic or kidney failure. These possible drug side effects can be more life-threatening than laminitis.  It's tempting to want to do everything possible for the horse, but heavy doses of multiple drugs can be dangerous. 

Help for trimming Rock-hard Feet!

Many people new to trimming are dismayed by how hard it can be.   Especially after the horse has been barefoot for some time, his feet will get tougher.  Trying to trim these hard feet can be extremely frustrating.

  1. First, using cheap, dull tools is an exercise in futility.   Some of the farrier supply houses, and Jaime Jackson, are carrying the German-made F. Dick hoof knives, which take a better edge.  You will end up needing to hone the edge of these knives, too, quite often, so you need to get a honer.  But they will at least take an edge better.

  2. Dremel tools, those little electric carving and grinding tools you can find in any home building supply center or hobby shop, are great.  The "high-speed cutter" attachments can be especially useful for shaping soles and bars.   On really hard feet, just grinding down the outer layer of sole, which is harder and drier than the layers beneath, due to the tamping effect Jaime Jackson talks about in his books, can enable you to use the hoof knife on the layers below a lot more readily.   Also, their "chainsaw sharpener" attachment is useful for honing hoof knife edges.  

    Martha Olivo prefers using fish hook sharpeners for sharpening knives and nippers, though.
    (They are tiny round files covered in diamond dust.)

    These Dremel bits are the ones Martha Olivo uses.
    Aluminum oxide grinder on left, high speed cutter on right.

    Cheryl Sutor's favorite Dremel bits.
    (Photo, Cheryl Sutor)

    Dremel tools are available in both the corded and cordless models.  I think you are better off with the corded one, as it takes more attachments and will probably have more power, plus it is cheaper.  You can get the flexible wand attachment, but I have reservations about this as I am hearing of power loss, and the bits stalling if you put much pressure on them.  To see more Dremel accessories, and for a source of Dremel tools in either 120 volts, or 220 volts for use in Europe:

    You do need to accustom the horse to a Dremel gradually so he will accept it.

    Even better for truly tough projects--a RotoZip! It's like a giant Dremel.

  3. Soaking feet prior to trimming can sometimes help....or trimming after it has rained and the ground is muddy.

  4. My Arizona contacts have been having really great results with Hoof MarvelYou spray it on a couple of hours before trimming, and maybe again an hour before, and the hooves are easier to work with, at least temporarily.   If it even works on hooves during an Arizona summer, which is as hot and dry as it gets, it is amazing!  For more info:  

  5. For keeping those long tails out of the way, you can use a hair clip.  Never use rotary tools without tying up the tail first!

On the subject of, "But I have to be really strong man to trim!"

No doubt about it, it helps to be strong when you trim!  However, Teresa Jessee, of Franklin, OH, went to a couple of Martha Olivo clinics and hosted a Strasser clinic, and decided to take up trimming despite her severe arthritis.  The first time she tried to trim, she was in tears of frustration.  But gradually, she developed ways to get trimming done in spite of her arthritis.  She uses a Dremel, a rolling mechanic's stool from Sears, and Davis soaking boots to soak the feet and soften them up before trimming.  Her husband is an expert at keeping her hoof knives sharp.  The photo below shows the arthritic changes in her hands.  She also found using two hands with the hoof knife to get better leverage was a help.

Here, on the other hand, is a man who really is strong enough to trim unaided, David Montana, shown with a foundered stallion:

(Photos--David and Sara Montana)

Interestingly enough, despite his great strength, David opted to make a sling so a sore horse would be more comfortable offering a foot to be trimmed.  Thanks to hearing about his slings on this website, a lot of people have ordered slings from him.   His slings are available at  (304) 924-5897.

Some of the following nutritional measures for both treating and preventing laminitis are of some help, but Dr. Strasser thinks that if you use the mechanical approach, you don't need this stuff.

She has a point.   Even giving various supplements, etc., my horse still was vulnerable to laminitis until I restored hoof mechanism with a correct trim and enough exercise.  You can treat laminitis successfully using free, natural living conditions, restoring hoof mechanism with a proper trim and enough movement....all without the use of any drugs or supplements.  However, all the drugs and supplements you can give will not succeed without addressing the mechanical aspects--restoring hoof mechanism.  Still, some of this stuff helps at least a little.

  1. If it is grass founder, dry-lot him and add magnesium to the diet.   However, some arid areas of the country do not need magnesium supplementation because the soil and the food grown on it are high in magnesium.  Areas with acid soil are more likely to need magnesium supplementation.  Check with you local Agricultural Extension Office for info on your soil.  For more info on the role of magnesium, see Pat Coleby’s "Natural Horse Care," available (used copies) through:
    or new copies from AcresUSA (also at: 800-355-5313) $20 (US) plus shipping
    or Night Owl Publishers, P. O. Box 242, Euroa 3666, Australia—I sent $20 US cash. (They prefer international money orders for $20.95 in Australian dollars, but these are a real hassle to obtain, and they did take my $20 bill.  This is over-paying, considering the exchange rates, though.)   Phone:  03-5794-7256. (To direct dial from the USA: 011-61-3-5794-7256.)

    Pat Coleby mentions that chronically foundered horses have hard, cresty necks, and in more extreme cases, a hard lumpy build-up on the shoulders and butt as well.  Not to be confused with fat, which is soft.  She describes this hardened tissue as having many of the characteristics of edema.  I realize her ideas are controversial.  However, all I can say is that in a few weeks after I started adding dolomite to Max's diet, and replaced his white salt block with a hi-magnesium salt/mineral block, his neck, which had a thick, hard crest, thinned down and softened. 

    Dr. Eleanor Kellon has been running some magnesium supplementation trials, and has found that adding magnesium to the diet of cresty horses usually began to bring these hard deposits down in about 3 weeks.

    I would caution people to not use dolomite, though, despite Pat Coleby recommending it, and my previous success with it. Some sources in the USA also contain undesirable elements, such as lead.  You want to feed a mix of food-grade magnesium oxide, balanced with food-grade calcium carbonate.  The ratio Linsey McLean uses in her high-protein feed formula is 5 parts calcium carbonate to 4 parts magnesium oxide.  Dr. Kellon recommends that the total diet--including hay--contain two parts calcium to one part magnesium.  Linsey's feed formula is based on a diet of grass hay and her high-protein diet.  Linsey's high-protein diet has been having remarkable results in everyone I am hearing from.  Among its many benefits are reducing heaves and other allergy problems.  A strong case can be made for lamintis being an allergy problem as well.  

    More from Linsey McLean ( on equine diets: 
    (She no longer provides the recipe for her high-protein feed mix on her site because used alone, it has some deficiencies.  It was intended to be supplemented with other vitamins and minerals, which need to be tailored specifically for your horse's condition and situation.)

    The other theory I have heard on these thick, stiff, cresty necks is that the horse develops extra muscling as a by-product of his constant muscular tension trying to keep weight off his sore front end.

    It is significant that the mare below never grass foundered when she was kept barefoot.  She only had a problem with grass after she was shod by a shoer who tended to get contracted heels in an attempt to make a "neat, pretty foot."  A neat, little Quarter Horse foot is not natural for a draft mix like her.

    This mare has the "founder neck" Pat Coleby talks about.  She has foundered many times.

    This is the same mare, full view.  Note 'cellulite' on her butt.

    The mare below displays many outward indications of being insulin-resistant.  Note the huge, hard crest on her neck, the 'cellulite' (lumpy fat) on her butt, and the mound of fat just above her tail.  This mare has had laminitis problems for a long time.  She always has some mild pulses and heat in her feet, when it should be very hard to find pulses normally.  These pulses are the result of raised blood pressure because inflammation is reducing blood flow into the feet.



    My personal view is that hard, cresty necks are not normal fat.  My Max had one, which went down in about 3 weeks after I began to really start supplementing his magnesium intake.  First his crest softened, although it remained the same size, and then it shrank...without a commensurate loss of weight elsewhere on his body.  In other words, it was acting more like edema than normal fat.  The fat on the mare's butt, above, was relatively soft, even though her cresty neck was really hard and firm.

    Horses like this one may not be able to graze on lush pastures very successfully.  They need to be on hay that has a low sugar other words, low NSC and low NFC values.  For more hay and forage information, check out  Many easy keepers evolved from stock in areas of poor vegetation and firm, rocky ground--the 'desert biome' Jaime Jackson talks about in his books.  When they have rich feed and/or lush pasture, they can't cope with it. 

    Obesity is definitely a risk factor for developing laminitis!

    Valerie riding Max, 3-29-98.

    No longer did Max have a thick neck with a hard, stiff crest, as you can see in the above photo.  Went down within a few weeks of adding magnesium to the diet.  I have an email from someone else who got the same results adding magnesium to the diet of her foundered pony, whose thick, cresty neck went down in a couple of weeks, too.

    Eleanor Kellon, VMD, Technical Editor of The Horse Journal, has made the following interesting observations re magnesium supplementation, grass founder, cresty necks, etc., on the naturalhorsetrim listserv.  

    (I had mentioned that did not seem that some horses were losing neck crests on dolomite alone. It seemed that the ones who did were "jump-started " on stronger forms of magnesium initially, which typically included a couple bottles of straight magnesium from the health food store, or a couple of doses of Epsom salts, or the magnesium gel marketed for lactating cows, got faster results.)  It also seems that there are better, safer forms of magnesium supplementation than I was using.  To see the posts in full, including contributions by Linsey McLean, the biochemist who formulates VitaRoyal Products, and get some sources,  Click here for Magnesium posts

    Below are excerpts from some of Dr. Kellon's posts:

    We are currently running a clinical trial on the effectiveness of magnesium in horses/ponies with problems related to chronic founder (grass founder in most cases) associated with obesity, "cresty" necks, abnormal glucose metabolism. This is mentioned briefly on Gretchen's site too. Preliminary results are very encouraging.

    Linsey is absolutely right about increased demands from our polluted environment (which are for minerals other than magnesium too) and that single mineral supplementation can lead to problems in time. However, with these cresty/laminitic horses and ponies, magnesium status has reached a critical level and is best repleted by use of magnesium alone (as Gretchen found out). Multi-mineral mixes, even with higher than usual levels of magnesium, don't work as well. The systems that control calcium/magnesium/phosphorus levels are only finely tuned to calcium, which is almost always adequate if not excessive in these cases. When we provide a mineral mix that contains calcium in addition to the extra magnesium, the calcium interferes with magnesium uptake. The 2:1 ratio refers to calcium:magnesium in the total diet, from all sources (grasses, hays, grains, supplements, water), not to the amounts in a supplement mix. The correct supplement ratio can only be determined after analyzing the diet. When this is done, 2:1 in the total diet works well for horses.

    The time course Gretchen mentioned - three weeks to beginning to see signs of changes in the fat deposits - is exactly what we have found. At that point, usually drop the magnesium dose to half and keep with that for 6 to 8 weeks total (about how long it takes them to lose the fat if not being regularly exercised - quicker if they are being worked) then design an individualized mineral supplementation plan that best matches the hays and grasses the horse/pony is eating. Grain is avoided for these guys (as it should be for any horse that can maintain its weight on hay and pasture alone).

    I'd like to take a minute to run through the metabolism and grass founder connection. There are now several studies that have shown that ponies and some horses - whether they have a history of founder or not - have "abnormal" glucose tolerance. What this amounts to is their cells being less sensitive to insulin than other domesticated horses. When they eat a meal high in easily digested carbohydrates (grain or lush grass, especially rapid young growths), their blood sugar and their insulin elevate much higher than a 'normal' horse. This is the same thing that happens in adult onset diabetes in people, at least in the early stages. The problem isn't too little insulin (like in the type of diabetes where people get insulin shots every day), it is that the cells are not sensitive enough to insulin.

    I personally believe this is a natural adaptation in the hardy breeds like ponies, Arabs and Morgans that allows them to survive well on sparse vegetation. By being relatively insensitive to insulin, their blood sugars remain more stable, ensuring a constant supply of glucose to critical organs like the brain and heart.

    They only get into problems when domestication restricts their exercise (another great way to keep your blood sugars level) and provides them with a diet that is much more sugar-dense than they are made to handle. High insulin (triggered by the high sugar content of the diet) slows the metabolism and shifts it over to fat storing. This is why these breeds are such easy keepers and gain weight quickly on even small amounts of carbohydrate/sugar (there are many different types of sugars in plants and grains, not all "sweet"). Another consequence of this altered metabolism is that the arteries become more sensitive to a chemical in the blood called thromboxane and will go into spasm more easily. This vasoconstrictive (constricted blood vessels) phase of founder is well documented.

    The combination of restricted exercise and shod feet, or feet that are improperly trimmed, and a tendency for the arteries to spasm easily is probably a key factor in laminitis developing although other factors, including allergy, could be involved as well.

    I mentioned magnesium in an earlier post. Magnesium is the most ignored of all the key minerals and deficiencies are likely widespread. Soil types, grass types (especially legumes like alfalfa or clover) and environmental problems (acid rain) all contribute. Magnesium is involved in literally hundreds of enzyme reactions, including those needed to properly process glucose. It is a well known fact that diabetics are commonly deficient in magnesium, and magnesium increases insulin sensitivity. Magnesium is also important for stabilizing cell membranes and membranes inside cells. It will often help alleviate allergic reactions. Finally, magnesium can desensitize the vessels to thromboxane so that they relax and do not go into spasm.

    Some magnesium sources:
    United Vet Equine:
    Fox Den Equine:

    Subject: Dolomite, Seaweed meal, garlic etc.
    From: Elizabeth O'Brien, eobrien@XTRA.CO.NZ
    I'm very interested in this. The Shetland Pony Society in New Zealand published an article on founder in their Newsletter called 'Understanding and the Management of Laminitis.' Lynne Mello and Angela Webb recommended a diet of 500 grms. Alfalfa chaff, 300 grms. Bran, 1 tsp. flat each of garlic, kelp and dolomite plus 4 - 6 fresh carrots sliced into sticks. This feed dampened with a little water. They say to avoid molasses unless they won't eat the mixture, which should be divided into two feeds with nothing else for the founder types. I had a pony who had developed the thick hard neck, and as she was only 3 years old, I was worried she would founder. Put her on the diet above and within two weeks the thick neck had gone.

    Here is another letter from someone with a foundered pony mare, who despite being thin, STILL has the "fat" cresty neck. She has already gotten a dramatic improvement in 5 days, despite using very little bute--mainly the magnesium and DMG are responsible:

    Mon Jul 6 07:37:31 1998
    Date: Mon, 6 Jul 1998 10:36:39 -0400

    Subject: Re: founder

    "I had to order the dolomite and the salt block from my feed dealer. So I have been using epsom salts until I can get it. She is now getting quite the mixture. Remember, she has a 7 week old foal by her side and she tends to be thin. I also have trouble getting Bute into her so I made her the following mixture: 2 quarts of Blue Seal Vintage Racer made with: beet pulp, 1-2 cups of bran, 1 cup of epsom salts, 1 scoop of mare plus (broodmare and foal vitamin/mineral supplement), 1 tbs. Thyro-L, 1/2 scoop DMG, 1/2 Bute tablet--all mixed into a wet, sloppy mixture 2 x per day that she just loves. She seems to be ok on this level of Bute, and because of the foal, I don't want to give her any more. I am paranoid about Bute. I gave my Morgan away last year.  Their vet gave him too much Bute, and he died from kidney failure.

    "She seems to be doing much better. Her digital pulse is much better.  Although I can still feel it, it is much more faint, and much slower. She looks brighter and is walking around much better. I give her free choice to run around wherever she wants from 8:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night. She is free to graze in the backyard, go into her rubber floor stall, or to go into the sand round pen. She does quite a bit of walking around since we started all this. She also looks a little rounder and just happier all the way around--more to her self that she has been. She looked so good this weekend that she came into a good strong solid heat, and I bred her.

    "She is also walking better, not nearly as hunched over. My farrier is coming Wed and we will be taking her heels down and giving her a mustang trim. I printed your entire page out in color for him so that he can see what he should do. He was already on the right track with her, but now I think he (and I ) will feel more confident taking a little more off here and there. I almost had a heart attack when he lopped off a lot 3 weeks ago and I thought she would be lame, but she was much better. I am still waiting for the salt block and dolomite to start on my other ponies so we will see what happens. I will keep you posted."


    Pat Coleby's emphasis on mineral-deficient feed being grown on mineral-deficient soils makes sense.  I had my soil tested, where Max's hay is raised, and the Agricultural Extension Office recommended large additions of lime. Dolomite is just a high-magnesium form of lime.  What may make the greener grass that grows during the rainy seasons less nutritionally adequate is that frequent rain leaches more minerals out of the soil, which is quite acid in my area.  The year he skipped foundering, '94, I was feeding hay that had been put up later in the summer and limited his pasture when the grass was new and lush.  We also had less rain in '94, so the grass was growing slower and less lush.  Despite limiting pasture to the same extent in '95 and '96, he foundered--perhaps because he was being fed an earlier first cutting these years, and we had more rain then as well.   His heels were higher then, though, which may have been the more important factor.   A Scottish researcher also told me that grass growing during wet periods, or even grass with heavy dew on it, is higher in sugars...too rich in calories, but short on minerals.  For this reason, plus so much anecdotal testimony from other horse owners, I limited pasture access at night.  After restoring hoff mechansim, this became less necessary.  See below:
    Reply To: Horsesci,
    To: Horsesci,
    "Recent posts have mentioned the link between overnight grazing in dewy pastures and laminitis. There is a scientific foundation for this. Recent work has shown that under these conditions sugars known as fructans are rapidly synthesised by the grass, and that these are the substances responsible. (I think this research was done at the University of Edinburgh Vet School, but I don't have the actual reference.)"
    Averil J. Cox
    Department of Pathological Sciences
    Stopford Building
    University of Manchester
    Oxford Road ManchesterM13 9PTUK
    Tel: 0160 275 5290 Fax: 0161 275 5289

  2. Dr. Eleanor Kellon, VMD, is running clinical trials on the use of Jiaogulan.  More info and sign-up form:  Jiaogulan and Nitric Oxide Protocol, Click HERE  This is sounding very promising!  Her comments below:

Laminitis of many different causes is associated with acute as well as long term problems with circulation to the feet and clotting in small blood vessels.  Hormonal, bacterial toxin, infectious, possibly even allergic, triggers may be involved.  One of the root physiological changes that occur is production of large amounts of nitric oxide from  white blood cells (the iNOS = inducible nitric oxide synthetase system), but suppression of the low level production of nitric oxide in the lining of blood vessels (the eNOS = endogenous nitric oxide synthetase system).  Suppression of vascular nitric oxide production makes the vessels more prone to spasm.  Commonly used anti-inflammatory agents such as phenylbutazone can help suppress the high levels of iNOS activity, but in the process also further depress the eNOS system.  Production of nitric oxide by the lining of the blood vessels is also essential for the manufacture of endothelial growth factors, hormone like substances that trigger the regrowth of blood vessels into damaged areas.

Supplying nitric oxide to laminitic feet to improve circulation has been of interest for quite a long time.  This is the rationale behind trying nitroglycerin patches or cream, and for supplements that contain the amino acid arginine, the precursor of nitric oxide.  Unfortunately,  these approaches may result in too much nitric oxide production and feed the inflammatory NO pathways as much as the beneficial vascular ones.

This trial is using the Chinese herb Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum).  This herb appears to be very effective in supporting vascular eNOS activity while at the same time the anti-inflammatory effects curb the damaging iNOS activity.

Commonly observed responses within the first 24 to 72 hours include:
*  Obviously pinker color to the mucus membranes (check mouth, vulva, conjunctiva)
*  Increased energy levels and alertness
*  Looks younger"
*  Decreased lameness and more spontaneous moving around
*  May appear better hydrated but drink less

Do not use in horses with bleeding tendencies
*  Do not use at the same time as bute or flunixine (Banamine) these may counteract/block the effect
*  Use at the same time as other adaptogenic herbs such as ginsengs may either counteract or enhance the effects, requiring dosage adjustments or discontinuation of the other herbs
*  Possible interactions with homeopathics is unknown
*  Do not use with other peripheral vasodilating drugs such as acepromazine or ACE inhibitors
*  Do not use with nitroglycerin or other laminitis supplements without sending me a list of ingredients from those supplements first
*  If additional pain or inflammation control is needed after first three days of therapy,  contact me for safe options to combine with this herb

Initial results to date have been very encouraging, but use of this herb in horses must be considered experimental.  Horses appear to be very sensitive to its effects.  Stay within dosage limitations and please ask anyone interested in trying this herb to contact me first so that I can review the diet, managements, supplements/drugs etc. and help with establishing a dose.  Safety appears to be excellent and there are no reported toxicities or allergic reactions in people, but that is always a possibility with ANY herbal drug, even common dietary ingredients.

  1. I have been getting good feedback on from friends and people on the naturalhorse trim list  is Linsey McLeans'  There is an article in an issue of The Horse's Hoof magazine interviewing several people about the results they saw on the VitaRoyal program. 
  2. A number of people on the naturalhorsetrim list have been reporting that adding MSM to the diet has resulted in harder hooves growing faster.

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