Research leads to answer for miniature horse ailment

Elisa Sand

When Christine Stoltenberg noticed her miniature horse was having difficulty walking, she and her sister turned to their school science fair as a way to find an answer.

Stoltenberg’s horse Cash was foundering — a condition in which there’s inflammation in the soft tissue inside the hooves.

“It made it really difficult for him to walk,” she said.

A senior at Northwestern Area School, Stoltenberg lives on her family’s fifth-generation grain farm near Stratford. In all, she and her siblings — Mackenzie and Dallas — have three miniature horses — Cash, Max and Buzz. The horses are all gifts from their uncle. Cash was the first to show signs of foundering.

But, she said, pinpointing the issue and finding a treatment was elusive. Stoltenberg said it took consultation with veterinarians and other horse owners before determining what was happening. Then, she said, they started researching options.

“It was kind of hard. When we went online there wasn’t a ton of information, it was really hard to figure out what it was and how to fix it,” she said.

In the end, she said, she and her siblings combined the information they found online with details they learned from talking to others. That, she said, gave them a base for starting Cash on supplements to see what feed would work best.

“The disease itself doesn’t have a set treatment,” she said. “We found a feed supplement that reduced symptoms.”

Without a solution, Stoltenberg said, the other option was euthanizing the horse. That option that was difficult because Cash has been her horse for 14 years. Max and Buzz joined the family 11 years ago.

Most recently, Max started showing signs of foundering as well.

“As soon as we started to know he was slowing down and showing the same signs, we immediately started the supplement,” Stoltenberg said.

She said she and her sister used this puzzle as a subject for their school science fair project her junior year. That led to a recommendation by their FFA advisor to present the topic at the FFA agriscience contest.

“We won the state contest and submitted paperwork to nationals,” Stoltenberg said.

That contest in Indianapolis was at the end of October. She and her sister placed 10th.

“It was such a cool experience to see all the final projects,” Stoltenberg said. “Being able to take what we found and present it and do well — it was a humbling experience and definitely a rewarding experience.

She has been in FFA since her freshmen year when the chapter was established at Northwestern. She said joining the club was one of the best decisions she has made.

“I’ve definitely learned about the importance agriculture holds in the community and nation,” Stoltenberg said.

While the sisters had a great experience presenting their information, Stoltenberg said their work isn’t done. This past year, the two continued their research focusing on miniature horses and their genetic predisposition to foundering.

That research included taking samples of the hooves from each of their three horses to see the change in cell structure between Cash, Max and Buzz.

“We found miniature horses are more susceptible to developing this disease because of the way the horses are built,” she said.

One piece of that is their diet, Stoltenberg said. A high-carbohydrate diet affects insulin production and can lead to foundering.

Despite the fact that she’s graduating and plans to attend Northern State University in fall, she expects her sister and brother to continue searching for answers.

“Our horses mean a lot to us. It’s what we can give back that means a lot to us,” Stoltenberg said.

Christine Stoltenberg with Johnny Cash, one of the family’s miniature horses, on the farm south of Stratford. American News photo by John Davis
Christine Stoltenberg snuggles Johnny Cash, one of the family’s miniature horses, on the farm south of Stratford. American News photo by John Davis