10 handy facts about lameness

A reader sent this article (from the UK) to me and I loved it!  Great info.  Thank you!  And, thank Nantwich Equine Vets for posting. 

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Nantwich Equine Vets

10 handy facts about lameness

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.

E. J Westwood.



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3 comments have been posted...

  1. Rox

    That also happened to me – a former vet, egged on by his ride-along farrier, gouged out my mare’s foot so badly that she bled profusely despite my begging the vet to STOP THE PROCEDURE. The next day my mare was euthanized, by another vet obviously, as she had rotated completely through the ruined hoof. The bad vet then blamed a very famous barefoot farrier for “having gone so deep” and also threatened me with some, ah, VERY dire consequences if I “told.” I later contacted that very famous “barefoot farrier” whose methods have been widely featured and directly quoted for a couple of decades in mainstream equine media, only to have him sanctimoniously assure me that “no doubt the vet knew what he was doing.” The bad vet is now practicing in a fourth or maybe fifth state having crippled multiple horses in previous states. As I recently found out these some odd fifteen or so years later, that vet’s ride-along farrier — not the “famous” farrier – remains in prison having been convicted on narcotics charges. I miss my mare every. Single. Day. Terrible, terrible waste. In my opinion, just like for animal abusers, there needs to be a public-access database for reporting such things. No such thing anymore as being TOO careful about anyone allowed near our horses. Just my two cents’ worth.

  2. Rox

    Excellent. But please consider adding to the list one very, very important item (just my 2 cents worth). When considering lameness consider the ethics of the farrier or the work. A farrier should always put the horse first (again, just my opinion based on five decades with horses of all breeds and multiple disciplines). If an owner or a trainer – a trainer acting with the owner’s knowledge/permission, or without the owner’s knowledge or permission as often is the case with high end competition horses) demands the farrier do something that is unethical, illegal, or actually harms the horse, that farrier needs to stand up and say NO. Perhaps more adamantly than diplomatically. Perhaps needing to repeat, explain, and be willing to collect the tools and leave, and maybe even willing to leave the client or the entire barnful.

    The horse should always come first.

    I recently encountered a young farrier, maybe three or four years of experience out of farrier school. At trainer’s bullying demand and without the owner’s knowledge or permission, he put a set of big lick show shoes on a formerly plain shod late-teens TWH. A TWH with chronic laminitis and several degrees of founder rotation. ‘ats what I’m talking about. You can easily guess the results.

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