Question: My daughter's pony has foundered in the past. Should I limit his access to pasture?
Answer: Founder can be a serious problem, especially with ponies. Ponies come from places in the world where there is little to eat. A lush or even not-so-lush pasture is like turning them loose in a chocolate factory when what they really need is a sparse salad bar. To learn more about the sugars in grass, see www.safergrass.org and also the EQUUS article Danger in Your Horse's Grass: Fructan.
Fat ponies (see photo at right) are more likely to founder again, but even thin or normal-weight animals can founder. An excellent way to monitor the pony's weight is to get a weight tape from your feed store, follow the directions and check his weight every 10 days to two weeks.
Also, check the fat around the top of his tail and through his lumbar area--if that fat gets lumpy or hard, founder or laminitis is around the corner. The crest of his neck is one of the best places to tell if you are in trouble. If it increases in size, thickness or lumpiness indicate danger (see "More Information" below).
There are a number of ways to control grass intake and any pony that has foundered should be restricted. Of course you can lock him in a stall, but many ponies are unhappy with this arrangement. Exercise is one of the best ways to manage weight.
You can also make a dry lot (a small paddock near the other horses that has most of the grass eaten out of it). These can be made with electric fences. Muzzles are also available and if your pony will wear one, they allow him to roam with the other horses but work much harder to get any grass. Some ponies hate them and will remove them at every opportunity. Some times you have to try different designs to find one that works.
Some ponies can tolerate small amounts of grass, others cannot. You will have to watch carefully for any signs of soreness any time he gets turned out where there is a lot of grass. You can have your veterinarian take a blood sample and check for insulin resistance, which is a condition that can lead to laminitis.
Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia.
Do you have a veterinary question for Dr. Harman? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back for her answers on EquiSearch.com.