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Horse Lameness




The following article on horse lameness is for reference only . If your horse becomes lame , you are advised to consult a qualified vet.

Like dogs and other animals, horses can’t talk to us when they hurt . Dogs though, will whine or whimper to indicate distress. Horses, being prey animals, don’t normally make any sounds to show that they are hurt. Prey animals living in the wild don’t want to let predators know when they are weak. What is an advantage for a wild animal is a disadvantage for a domestic one. One has to learn to be very observant of their charges to be able to tell when they hurt. One of the more obvious ways a horse shows pain is by going lame.

A lame horse hurts somewhere. It’s up to us to find out what's causing the pain and to ensure that the horse receives correct treatment for the problem. In most cases , lameness is temporary and the horse recovers with proper care. The competition horses at Greenacres being 'super fit athletes' are often prone to lameness.

Lameness is easiest to see when the horse is trotting. If the pain is in just one leg, it is noticed that the horse is not moving evenly. The severity can range from a barely noticeable hitch in the stride to a reluctance to put any weight on one foot. A lame horse will often throw the head in rhythm with its stride. If the horse is sore in a front leg, he will throw his head up as the sore side touches the ground. If the lameness is in a back leg, he will lean onto the sound side. He may also drag the toe on the sore side. If the horse hurts in both front feet or all four feet, one will not notice a limp. Instead, he will keep his head up and move with a short, stumbling stride .

A sound horse stands with front legs perpendicular to the ground. A horse who stands “camped out” instead of keeping his legs under his body is probably sore. A relaxed horse will often rest a hind foot, but he’ll keep equal weight on each front foot. A sore horse might try to take the weight off a front leg by pointing it forward with just the toe on the ground.     Whilst an observant person may recognize that a horse is lame, pinpointing the exact site and cause of the lameness is usually a job for a veterinarian.

If you do see that your horse is lame , remember that a horse that is lame ,  is hurting. Do not ride a lame horse unless specifically directed to by a veterinarian. We have on occasion been asked to ride a lame horse in order to exacerbate the lameness for x ray purposes. The first thing to do is find out where your horse hurts and why. There might be an obvious wound, but more likely, it will take some detective work to find the problem. In most cases, it’s best to consult your veterinarian. Calling in a veterinarian early not only saves the horse from living with pain any longer than is necessary, but is usually cheaper in the long run.

To start searching for causes, we always start at the bottom , at the feet. Pick out your horse’s feet and make sure there are no stones wedged into the crevices. Look for dark spots that might indicate a bruised sole. Badly cracked feet can also cause lameness. If the feet have just been trimmed , then check to see if they were trimmed too short. Keep your horse on soft ground until the hoof grows in. If the horse was recently shod , a nail may be too close to the sensitive structures inside the hoof or the shoe and might be pinching. In either case, call your farrier.

If when feeling the hooves, check to see if one hoof is hotter than the others. Feel the pulse in the artery that passes over the fetlock joint. If it is pounding , both heat and a pounding pulse are indications of injury.

Check for heat and swelling in the lower leg . The horse may have injured a tendon or a ligament, similar to a sprained ankle in people. If that is the case, your horse will need a long rest period in order to heal, just as you would with a sprained ankle.

The cause of the lameness may be in any of the horse's joints. Like people, horses can suffer from arthritis and bursitis. The stifle, which is the equivalent of our knee, can slip and lock. Horses subjected to overly stressful work, particularly when young, can have bone chips floating in the joints.

Many ridden horses have sore backs. Even if your horse is not lame, if he objects to saddling, flinches , or sinks his back when you brush it , or bucks, suspect a sore back.

Two common diseases that should be looked out for are Chronic Founder and Navicular disease. One should also be alert to Tying Up Syndrome.

Laminitis or Founder.

Laminitis, commonly called founder, is an acutely painful inflammation of the foot. It occurs most often in the front feet although it can affect the hind feet as well. The most common cause is overeating. ( See our separate page upon Laminitis ) .

Navicular Disease .

If your horse is lame on and off with no apparent cause, your veterinarian may suspect navicular disease. The pain is caused by progressive degeneration of the navicular bone, a small bone inside the foot and the tendon which passes over it. At first, the horse might be lame when warming up at the beginning of a ride but will work out of it. Or he will be lame after hard work but will return to normal after rest. As the condition worsens, the horse will try to avoid the pain by landing toe first when moving causing a shuffling gait and stumbling. He will wear his toes more than his heels. At rest, the horse will stand with one or both front feet stretched forward. Navicular disease cannot be cured, but with veterinary treatment and corrective shoeing and trimming, the horse’s discomfort can be kept to a minimum for many years.

Tying Up or Azoturia

If your horse seems to seize up while you are riding him or shows signs of stiffness and is unwilling to move after work, he may be tying up. This is a serious condition caused by a build up of lactic acid in the muscles. Do not try to make the horse move. Cover him with a blanket and call your veterinarian. Prevent tying up by reducing the amount of oats your horse gets when he isn’t working, gradually warming up at the beginning of each riding session and carefully cooling out afterwards.



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