Ten Handy Facts About Lameness

Nantwich Equine Vets

  1. A forelimb lameness is identified by looking for the head nod. The head will go up when the lame limb hits the ground and down when the sound limb hits the ground. It is easier to notice the ‘head nod’, therefore when the head nods, it is the opposite leg that is lame.
  2. Check for heat and a pulse. Inflammation brings blood to the area.
  3. A horse with arthritic wear and tear (common in older horses), will often get better as he goes, which is known as ‘warming out of it’. The lameness will usually be less obvious after a few minutes. Additionally, he will often be worse on hard ground (tarmac) in comparison to the ménage. This is due to more concussion on his joints.
  4. A horse with soft tissue damage will often get worse as he goes and is often lamer on a soft surface (ménage), as the tissue such as an affected tendon or ligament is being stretched more than it would be on a hard surface with no give.
  5. A horse with bilateral forelimb lameness will be harder to detect as the head nod will now be apparent when both limbs hit the ground. However he will show a shorter cranial phase (his forelimbs will not come out very far from underneath him resulting in a ‘choppy’ gait).
  6. If you are struggling to detect lameness get the Slo-Pro app for your mobile phone and record your horse. This will slow everything down until you train your eye into detecting lameness.
  7. A hind limb lameness is more difficult to detect. If you watch the horse trotting away from you, the lame leg usually has more movement at the hip. It helps to attach white sticky tape to both hip bones to make this more obvious to the eye.
  8. Putting a horse on a circle (lungeing), often shows up a forelimb and hindlimb lameness more easily.
  9. If the horse looks lame on one limb, but has a stronger pulse in the opposite limb, it is usually because the sound limb has taken more weight to allow pressure relief of the affected limb.
  10. A horse can look completely sound without a rider, and then almost three legged once someone is on board. Therefore if your getting a feeling that something just isn’t quite right, do not just jog him up on the straight or on the lunge and assume all is well.

** Shoeing/trimming intervals should be kept as short as possible. Studies have shown that as the toe grows, the foot ‘shoots’ forward (long toes, low heel), putting excess strain on the flexor tendons. If your horse always looks slightly ‘off’ just prior to shoeing, then this is a very probable cause and it may be worth shortening your shoeing cycle.

As a horse owner, developing an eye for lameness is one of the greatest skills you can learn. This will not only allow you to have your horse treated more quickly, but will hopefully nip smaller issues in the bud before they escalate into far bigger ones.