Chapter 16 – Is there anything one can do to help comfort the horse during healing?

Yes, there certainly is. At the very onset of founder, cooling the feet seems to have a positive and soothing affect. It has long been known that the ‘old-timers’ use to walk their sore footed and foundered horses to the cold mountain streams and have them stand in it for periods of time. It’s also been noted that horses left to their own devices that have access to cold streams will do the same thing. The cooling affect either lessens the feeling of the pain setting in or it constricts the entire hoof to lessen the amount of excess fluid that can enter the hoof or simply prevents moving parts within the hoof to move very much. I do not know the exact reason why this seems to help. After the initial incident, however, the value of cooling the feet decreases. It doesn’t hurt; it just doesn’t have the same benefit. Placing the feet in buckets of iced-down water has much the same affect as the cold steam, minus the action of the rushing water. Running well water over the feet can mimic the affects of the stream. I’ve also heard of deep piles of peat moss that’s been made wet and cooled down having a similar benefit, though I’ve never tried that one myself. I don’t have much need to keep bags of peat lying around my place, so for me, this one isn’t much of an option.

There are a number of options available to you that are intended to comfort and support the hoof, but which option to use is largely based on your horses situation, the environment he lives in, the amount of pain he experiences, the resources you have available to you and the amount of money you are able to or willing to spend. I personally believe in trying to work with what Nature provides and I do the best I can to work within small budgets. I also try my best to let logic and common sense be my guide. No need to go out and buy lots of expensive shoes, supplements or feeds, which are stated to fix the problem or provide all the nutritional supplements needed to re-grow new hoof tissue, when you may not know exactly what your horse needs at that point in time and they may not work in the first place. (Reason is it’s been my experience that only a properly balanced trim (along with an appropriate treatment plan) that’s been tailored to your horses need, can actually reverse the affects of founder. Supplements may aid, but they cannot reverse founder.)

There is, however, one product that I do use on lame horses when necessary that can comfort and / or support the hoof at many different stages in the recovery process. TLOP pads (Tender Loving Orthotics Products) have been my number one choice for artificial comfort and support since the year 2000. The products are borne out of the aerospace industry and have been a great asset when working on lame horses. I won’t go into full detail here, but they are of different densities and different thickness and can be added or changed on the fly as the need arises. The good thing is, just about any horse owner can apply and / or modify them. They are attachable either by duct tape or can be slipped into a small number of slippers / boots currently on the market. These foam rubber pads are also inexpensive to use and are economical enough to keep on hand for emergencies of multiple varieties whether you have a founder case or not.

There are some natural methods for comforting and / or supporting the feet, which have had great success. Clay-type mud is always good. Make sure it’s a peanut butter-like consistency so it can be well packed into the hoof. Many parts of the country have a decent supply of natural clay or good quality mud. Should conditions be dry, simply make a mud hole and have your horse walk through it to pack the feet nicely. When the horse is done with that mudpack, clean it out and repeat the process. If you have access to river rock, pea gravel or pea stone (each are similar, but all should be about 3/8” in diameter. Most landscape or gravel companies that carry more than gravel and sand usually have something pretty close.), you can prepare an area large enough for your horse to at least stand in it to get some comfort. It should be between four and six inches deep to be of benefit to the horse. Dr. Robert Bowker, VDM of Michigan State University has hailed this natural product for its ability to support and comfort the horse’s inner hoof. He himself has been using it at his own barn for approximately ten years. If you don’t live where there is a natural supply of mud or clay and you can’t get hold of a suitable source of pea gravel, remember the TLOP pads.

These are by no means the only products (natural or artificial) that will have a beneficial value to your horse’s comfort, but they are some of the easier and more readily available options and should be obtainable throughout much of the country. Should you not have any of these products available to you, simply look around, use some logic and common sense and see what you have available to you on short notice. The quicker you can support the inner structure of the feet and the quicker you can have a correct trim performed, the quicker you will arrest the founder where it is and hopefully prevent it from progressing any further. That also translates to a shorter recovery time, providing there haven’t been previous founder episodes, in which case the recovery time will be longer, but the proper support and correct trim will still be crucial for beginning the recovery process.

During the recovery process, providing everything is going well, there will be good, peaceful times and there will be rough times. This cycle will occur over and over until the full founder problem is resolved. Don’t be alarmed by the rough times, progress is still being made. You may not see it, but listen to your horse, he’ll tell you. If you need confirmation, talk it over with me. We’ll examine the evidence and determine what is taking place.