Lameness in horses is a serious and painful problem with many possible causes, and it is important to notice the signs early to improve the chances of successful treatment. Lameness could be the 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.
Lameness can stem from hoof inflammation, . Broken bones and injured muscles, tendons or ligaments can cause lameness. If your horse has been injured or has conformation problems and is favoring one side over the other, this can also cause lameness. Overwork and improper conditioning can also cause problems, and there are several types of inflammatory, neurological and infectious diseases that can induce lameness too.
Preventing, Diagnosing and Treating Equine Lameness
Preventing lameness is always preferable to treating it afterward, but this is not always possible. Some preventative measures you can take, however, are 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.
When prevention does not work, however, it is important to notice the signs of lameness promptly and to engage the help of your veterinarian right away. Signs initially may be as subtle as the horse being abnormally "grumpy" or ill tempered or reluctant to perform a normally routine task. Signs may gradually arise or become apparent all of a sudden. As the lameness severity increases you may notice a head nod in the front limbs or a hip asymmetry behind while trotting. Sometimes heat or swelling will accompany a lameness.
A your equine veterinarian we will first watch your horse as he or she walks and trots in straight lines and circles to evaluate any lameness, asymmetries or overcompensating in one area because of injury to another. Flexion tests are used to "stress" areas of the leg to try and reveal where the pain is coming from. Then, the vet examines your horse by touch (“palpation”) to evaluate tissue tenderness, heat, inflammation, etc. in the joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Nerve blocks, joint blocks, ultrasound , x-rays and other diagnostics can further isolate the area with the problem.
After isolating the cause of the lameness, we can recommend a course of treatment. Of course, treatments vary widely, ranging from rest, anti-inflammatory medications and therapeutic exercises 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 all the time to help even horses with severe lameness. Everything from hyaluronic acid and platelet-rich plasma to medications such as Tildren and Os Phos.
The most important thing you can do is work to prevent the situations that can lead to lameness—and if lameness strikes, act fast with the help of an experienced equine veterinarian