HOOF WHISPERERS: Horses find life after founder at Wyoming ranch
March 18, 2015
On a rocky ranch outside of Lander, Wyoming, a handful of fortunate foundered horses go barefoot on their road to recovery.
The hoof whisperers, Roger and Ingrid Buchmeier, have rehabilitated some advanced cases that even veterinarians had given up on.
Over the last decade, they have worked with one or two horses a year, enjoying terrific success using careful trimming to create a more balanced hoof.
"Our purpose is simply to help horses," says Ingrid Buchmeier. "Our goal is to give horses another chance to be comfortable. If they have the ability to heal, we just need to give them that chance."
Founder and its predecessor, laminitis, cost the horse industry millions every year – estimates top $500,000 annually and 200,000 new cases every year. A laminitis diagnosis doesn't have to mean the end of a horse's use, say the Buchmeiers.
Roger is a farrier and Ingrid is a lifelong horsewoman. They feel most foundered equines will recover with proper intervention.
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Says Ingrid: "Our trimming just balances the hoof front to back and side to side while allowing the new hoof to grow in and eliminating the tearing forces a large animal places on a relatively small surface area. There are many ways to treat founder, ours is one way. We prefer the most natural route rather than shoes or drugs."
At their ranch, pads and shoes are left off and a process of natural hoof care is started. Stall rest is replaced with gentle activity. Aggressive, costly and invasive therapies are not part of the program.
Several horses arrived at the ranch with the Buchmeiers being the only alternative to euthanasia.
"Some belonged to friends so we just took them in and got started," Ingrid says. "One of the first was an Arabian mare who was sixteen. The vet was scheduled to euthanize that afternoon. We took the mare pro-bono. She healed beautifully and is now 33. She went on to be shod and carried her owner up and down the mountain trails as if the near-disaster had never happened."
The Buchmeiers charge modestly for their services. Trained in Colorado, where they dissected cadaver feet and saw how the hoof worked, they started with referrals from their local vet.
Word got around and the horses kept coming.
"One vet," Ingrid says, "sent us a mare who 'has no frogs.' Turned out she had foundered previously but had so much hoof growth that her soles were about four inches thick. … We just started trimming her bit by bit as she could tolerate and eventually she had a normal hoof."
Under the Buchmeiers' agreement with a horse owner, the horse is donated to their care and sold back to the owner for a pre-determined price. The owner gives up the right to remove the horse until rehabilitation is complete to allow them every opportunity to finish their work.
"We usually have horses for a couple months, and then the owners bring them back for trims or we consult with their farriers," Ingrid says.
Since horses seen early in the traditional medical community of veterinarians and farriers tend to have the best prognosis, the Buchmeiers' small body of work is compelling.
"There is definitely the opinion out there," Ingrid says, "that once a horse has foundered, they will never be the same. I disagree. If they have an intact coronary band and the coffin bone has not remodeled too much, they can be fixed and go on to lead productive lives."
Radiography of the foundered horse will show rotation of the coffin bone. Clinical signs include tenderness in the foot progressing to inability to walk. Progression of the disease may include perforation of the coffin bone through the sole of the hoof.
"Each case is different depending on if it is acute or chronic," Ingrid says. "Is the coffin bone exposed? Is the hoof sloughing?"
The Buchmeiers' interest in founder started with a purchase of their own at a sale barn. The horse was padded and shod and "Buted." When they got her home, they discovered she was lame and it was laminitis.
They took the advice of an "old time farrier" from Montana and pulled the mare's shoes and started trimming and leaving her barefoot. "It started working and we weaned her off the Bute and she started running with our herd," Ingrid says.
Founder is preceded by laminitis. Laminitis literally means inflammation of the laminae. A severe inflammatory event – caused by trauma from outside forces or disease process from the inside – is thought to damage cells that results in dysfunction.
Most cases of laminitis occur in both front feet. Laminitic horses are generally sore to pressure from hoof testers applied over the toe area.
Most horse owners have heard the caution not to get a horse too fat or turn a horse out on lush spring pasture. But serious colics, retained placentas in mares, and other illnesses or disease processes are also suspect.
Theories include vascular mechanisms and enzymatic mechanisms. Some clinicians believe both play a factor.
Mechanisms are still the subject of research. Three primary conditions include endocrine problems, an illness such as sepsis that precipitates inflammation or generalized inflammation, or trauma involving concussion or excessive weight bearing.
The Buchmeiers' most recent success is a Shetland pony that arrived at the ranch with "elf toes." Says Ingrid: "He came in May. I saw him loping this fall."
Another success story involves a horse sold to a couple by a trader as a "dead broke horse" for the wife to build her confidence with. The gelding only walked, because he was lame. Treatment was started, and two weeks later, when the couple came to visit, they didn't recognize their horse in the corral.
"He went to bucking and running," Ingrid says. "Suddenly their dead broke horse was a little more lively than what they knew he had in him."