Founder is a very painful condition that can be brought on by many things, or more likely, a combination of things. There are three levels of severity to founder (laminitis, acute laminitis, and founder), but all three are commonly referred to by the common name of Founder.
In very simple terms, founder is a chemical (and/or metabolic) imbalance in the horse’s body, which is significant enough to ‘push’ the horse over the edge into the state of founder. Put in simplified terms, blood flow is restricted going into to the foot, which starts causing the lamina (which is the white line and is the ‘finger joint-like’ tissue that attaches the outer hoof wall to the inner hoof capsule) to begin loosing suppleness, thus loosing attachment. The weight of the horse becomes a factor at this point, the heavier the horse, the quicker the inner hoof will tear away from the hoof wall beginning in the toe region. The heels are rarely ever affected. As the inner capsule tears away more and more from the hoof wall, the more the tip of the coffin bone points or ‘rotates’ downward. At this point, you have rotation and you have founder. If the problem that causes the founder happens so quickly that everything seems to happen all at once, the lamina may be compromised so fast that the coffin bone ‘sinks’ instead of rotating. This form of founder is termed a ‘sinker’. It can also happen at a slower rate, but affect more lamina than just the toe region, the coffin bone can still sink instead of rotating, but it is possible for there to be both sinking and rotation in some cases. Founder itself is really nothing more than the health of the hoof being compromised to the point where the coffin bone can no longer remain attached or held secure in it’s proper position. Even though this is in simplified terms, the reality of the matter is that it’s extremely painful for the horse to endure. But it’s not the end of the world. We humans may have our hands, feet or legs broken, which is very painful, but it’s not the end of the world for us. We can be repaired. So it is with founder. It no longer has to be the end of the world for the horse. Metabolic and mechanical issues caused the horse to founder, and working with the mechanics of the hoof, the founder situation can be reversed. It takes time and patience and rehabilitation, but it can be reversed.
Where does the term founder come from?
Well, it is a term borrowed from the old sea mariners. When a ship would sink bow first, it was said to have foundered. So, since the rotation of the coffin bone occurs with the toe and it begins to point downward, the term founder is used to describe the affect of that rotation.