Q: My horse foundered a little over a month ago. How long does it take for a horse to fully recover from founder? He can now execute all gaits properly, but I was wondering if there are any precautions I need to take when working him.
It can be assumed from your question, since your horse seems to be sound at all gaits without a rider, that there was minimal or no rotation/sinking of the coffin bone during his bout with founder and the following answer will be based on this assumption. I will also assume your horse is off all pain medication, such as phenylbutazone (bute). If this is not the case, do not start any ridden work until he is sound without the help of medication.
Before starting your horse back to work in earnest, it would be a prudent idea to put hoof testers, those metal pincer-like tools that your vet and farrier sometimes use to test for pain within the hoof capsule, on your horse’s founder-affected hooves. If your horse does not respond with a flinch as you put pressure around the sole, this is a good sign that there is no longer any pain within the hoof and you are good to go to start working him again in saddle.
It may also be a good idea to have your farrier out for a visit before you start riding again. Founder can disrupt the growth of the hoof wall (some horse owners may be familiar with the wavy lines seen in badly foundered hoof walls – these are often called founder lines) and if there are any hoof balance issues that have developed since your horse’s bout, your farrier may be able to detect this.
As with any return to work after a lameness or other illness, start your horse back slowly and on soft footing. If you have access to an arena or ring with soft, loose footing, this is the best place to begin bringing your horse back into work. For the first few sessions, keep them short and work only at the walk. If your horse tolerates these sessions without any problems both during and after the workout, then slowly and gradually increase the time spent on his back as well as the speeds at which you are working him. Pay special attention to how he moves AFTER you work him, to pick up any residual pain, paying keen attention to how he handles himself on turns, as subtle lamenesses will often show up in this maneuver first.
A few weeks of slowly bringing your horse back under saddle should provide enough time to evaluate his progress and his comfort. If all goes well, you should be well on your way to bringing him back to where he was before the laminitis. Good luck!