Preventing lameness is always preferable to treating it afterward, but this is not always possible. Some preventative measures you can take include: making sure not to overwork your horse, ensure he or she has proper training and conditioning for daily tasks, proper farrier work and hoof care, and regular veterinary checkups. Sound nutrition, proper rest and hydration are also critical for avoiding lameness due to health problems.~~Preventing lameness is always preferable to treating it afterward, but this is not always possible. Some preventative measures you can take include: making sure not to overwork your horse, ensure he or she has proper training and conditioning for daily tasks, proper farrier work and hoof care, and regular veterinary checkups. Sound nutrition, proper rest and hydration are also critical for avoiding lameness due to health problems.
Equine Lameness: What You Need to Know
Lameness in horses is a serious and painful problem with several possible causes, and it is important to notice the signs early to improve the chances of successful treatment. Lameness is a problem if your horse‘s gait is abnormal in any way. In some cases, the way a horse’s head bobs can indicate that he or she is having difficulty. In other cases the signs may be very subtle. The horse may be required to be trotted or lounged on a line on a very firm surface to elicit an observable sign. Sometimes the rider may be required to be on the horse to observe any overt signs.
Lameness can stem from a metabolic/endocrine issue, a physical injury, a neurological disease, an infectious disease or shoddy farrier work. Innjured muscles, tendons, ligaments or bone chips and fractures can cause lameness. If your horse has a conformation issue and is favoring one side of the body over the other, this can also cause lameness. The majority of lamenesses are in the lower portion of the limb. The riding discipline can sometimes help narrow the anatomic location of the issue. If not a lameness workup is required to isolate the specific location.
Diagnosing and Treating Equine Lameness
It is important to notice the signs of lameness promptly and to engage the help of your veterinarian right away. As part of a lameness evaluation we will first watch your horse as he or she walks from a distance, and from all sides to evaluate any asymmetries showing the horse overcompensating in one area because of injury to another area. An uneven gait, how the foot lands on the pavement, the flexion and extension of the joints are key indicators. Examination begins at the bottom of the foot using hoof testers to squeeze the different parts of the hoof wall, sole and frog for sensitivity. Then we will work our way up the limb. This portion of our examine will also be actual hands on the musculoskeletal structures (“palpation”) to evaluate tissue tenderness, feel for heat, inflammation, assess range of motion of the joints and the presence of excessive fluid in the joints.
We will also bend and flex the legs in a systematic manner. Listening to the sound of each hoof landing on the pavement is important during these evaluations. The intensity of the sound as the hoof lands and the rhythm are all very important to help isolate the limb in which the lameness is originating. Nerve blocks, joint blocks and x-rays can further isolate the area with the problem. As part of a standard scoring system for lameness evaluation we will grade the severity from 0 (no noticeable problems) to 5 (severe lameness, even during rest) to rank how bad the lameness is.
After isolating the cause of the lameness, we will recommend a course of treatment. Of course, treatments vary widely, ranging from rest, anti-inflammatory medications and gentle therapeutic walking all the way to surgery—it simply depends on the reason behind the horse’s lameness. As equine veterinary science continues to advance, newer treatments are coming out to help even horses with severe lameness. Options such as stem-cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma, laser therapy and alternative treatments such as acupuncture and equine chiropractic care are possible options.
The most important thing you can do is to recognize that there is an abnormal issue happening and call to discuss the issue with us.