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Recognising Lameness

Horses can become lame as a result of problems in one or more legs, the back or the neck. If you think your horse may be lame, it's important to find out why, so that an effective treatment plan can be developed to resolve the problem quickly and get your horse back to normal. Continuing to ask your horse to perform when he or she is lame may worsen the problem and result in failure to make a complete recovery.

Lameness can be severe or subtle

Severe lameness is easy to recognise because the horse may try to avoid bearing weight on the affected limb. However, lameness can also be subtle, and it can be difficult to work out the precise location of the problem. Lameness can also be due to an injury of the soft tissues or skin, and not directly involve the horse's bones and joints. For example, an injury such as a laceration on your horse's shoulder could result in your horse favouring that limb. An area that is painful during movement may result in your horse feeling unbalanced as you ride, or result in a change in his or her behaviour. For example, pain in the back or the neck could mean that your horse is unwilling to perform a task that it would normally do.

Recognising forelimb vs hindlimb lameness

In forelimb lameness, the head and neck tend to rise when the lame leg is bearing weight or hits the ground, and fall when the sound leg hits the ground. In hindlimb lameness, the hip or pelvis "hikes up" when the lame leg is bearing weight or contacts the ground, and moves downward when the sound limb hits the ground. Identifying the lame leg becomes more difficult if more than one limb is affected or if multiple parts of the body are affected (e.g. a combination of a limb and the neck and/or back, or other areas).   

Ask your vet for a lameness examination

The best way to diagnose lameness is to have your vet conduct a lameness examination. Your vet will observe your horse in motion as well as at rest. Your vet will also carry out a thorough physical examination and a number of special tests to identify the cause/s of lameness and develop a suitable management plan.