Rural Heritage Village Smithy

Frog Support Pad for Founder
by F. Thomas Breningstall

"My mare had a disaster at the trainer's," writes Jo-ann Kennedy of Saskatchewan. "She had a tie stall fall apart on her and, from what I gather, she stood a long time in a stressful position. Then she foundered and I was not aware until a week later. (These people don't touch my horse anymore!) That was in July of the summer before last. She got through all that okay, but the following February her hooves started falling apart.

"From what I understand the hoof was growing out and the founder damage to the hoof was causing it to lose shape at the heels. Her heels were flaring out. My farrier tried shoeing and all seemed to be okay until last July. He shod her and stated that his goal was to get her on a smaller shoe because of the flares.

"I got a bit concerned so I found another farrier. He says the founder is showing in the heels and she does not need smaller shoes; they would do more damage. His theory is that hooves grow where there is pressure, so he mixed up some filler and shaped her hooves as they normally would be, so the hooves would grow out that way. Then he shoed her.

"I've had this process done for about 5 or 6 times and things seem to be going okay. However, we live in a cold winter climate and the filler cracks off. Her hooves still look concave at the heels: they curve in up top and flare out on the ground, and her heels are really down. For a few times my farrier put a leather shim under her shoes to lift the heels, but he thinks maybe continuing to do that will stop the heel from growing. What do you think?

"She's a tough horse and seems to have no lameness. It was suggested that I leave her barefoot for two months, but I think if I do we could get a good cold spell and she could lose a chunk of hoof and I'll be back to square one. I give her MSM and a big dose of biotin daily. I'm convinced they help the hoof wall as it grows. I want to do the best possible to get this horse's feet well again.

"I have become quite confident in this farrier now, but he is moving away. I will not go back to the first one after seeing his work on other horses. Can I do anything else, or am I doing things right?"

Laminitis and resulting founder (sinking of the coffin bone) are serious and complicated diseases, and what works on one horse may cripple another. The best thing a horse owner can do is get help from the best equine veterinarian and farrier that can be found. The veterinarian should have a good working relationship with one or more farriers he or she trusts. You can get a list of American Farrier's Association certified farriers in your area by calling 606-233-7411. Ask for case histories and references.

I personally don't like to use filler on foundered horses. I like to see what the feet are doing and how they look as they grow out. The founder rings take about a year to grow down to the ground. At that time I can usually tell how much permanent damage founder has done to the hoof. Filler can also trap debris, and may cause an abscess in the hoof—not a good thing.

One of the best methods for treating founder is with frog support, which may be done by using a heart bar shoe applied by a farrier who is experienced in its usage. Another method that works well is to use a frog support pad between the hoof and a flat shoe made to fit the trimmed hoof. The pad may be purchased ready-made from any horseshoe supply store or may be made as follows:

  • Cut either a leather or plastic pad to fit the hoof and shoe, then cut a wedge from a second leather pad. The wedge should be the same shape and size as the frog. Carefully mark the full pad as to were the frog is. Using short roofing nails, nail the wedge to the full pad so the wedge covers the frog when the shoe is nailed on. The heads of the roofing nails must be on the hoof side of the pad, with the ends bent over and pounded down on the ground side of the pad assembly. Two nails are enough, and please remember: pointy ends of the nails down, away from the hoof.

  • Nail the shoe and pad assembly to the trimmed hoof. The hoof wall at the toe may be rasped back to the white line to take support off the toe. The spaces between the pad and hoof should be packed with silicone caulking or other soft pliable packing.

Frog support treatment takes weight off the hoof wall and puts some of the weight on the frog, and also supports the leg's bone column and helps keep the coffin bone from rotating down. As I said at the outset, laminitis and the resulting founder are complex, and so are the treatments. Since each case is different, a good farrier and vet team should be involved in any treatment of founder.

With new treatments and medications, many foundered horses make full recovery, I hope yours will, too.


F. Thomas Breningstall is a full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. His column “Hoof & Hammer” appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column was in Spring 2000 issue.

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16 April 2012 last revision