Signs that your horse is lame can be obvious—such as your horse limping, dragging a leg, head bobbing, or barely able to walk. Obvious signs such as these should be treated by your veterinarian immediately.
However, subtle signs of lameness such as short striding, intermittent lameness, or perhaps lame only in one direction can be very frustrating to deal with. I’d love to help you figure it out. If the lameness information on this page doesn’t help you, you may want to check the complete horse problem list for additional horse help.
Lameness in horses can be divided into two categories:
- Lameness coming from a problem in the legs.
- Lameness coming from a problem NOT in the legs — the back, head, neck, or pelvis (i.e. hip area).
The first question to answer is: which category is your lame horse in? If you know, please skip down to that section. Otherwise, the best way to figure it out is to answer this question:
Where is my horse most obviously lame ?–Walk or Trot
If your horse is more obviously lame at a trot, rather than the walk, then the cause of your lameness is most likely in your horse’s legs. For example, if a Quarter horse gelding is obviously head bobbing at the trot, but only a barely visible head bob at the walk, then the problem is more obvious at the trot. The cause is most likely in his legs.
In another example, if an Oldenburg mare is six inches short-strided in her left hind at the trot, and is only one inch short-strided at the walk, then again the cause is most likely in her legs.
However, if your horse is more obviously lame at the walk, rather than the trot, then the cause is most likely NOT in your horse’s legs. If the Quarter horse gelding’s head bob is worse at the walk, then the cause is more likely to be NOT in the legs. If the Oldenburg mare’s short stride is worse at the walk, then the cause is more likely NOT in the legs.
1. Lameness caused by a leg problem
Horse is more obviously lame (of feels more “off”) at a TROT
If your horse’s lameness is more evident at the trot than the walk, it is most likely that the cause of the lameness is in one of your horse’s legs. The problem can be coming from a joint, tendon or ligament, muscle, or the foot.
You can do Body Checkups to examine every joint in your horse’s legs. Doing these simple Body Checkups available in Where Does My Horse Hurt? will give you a wealth of information about your horse. You’ll easily be able to determine which joints are moving correctly through their optimal range of motion. You’ll be able to help your veterinarian focus in on the problem area, saving you time and money in diagnostics and treatments.
These are the Body Checkup areas to do to find the exact problem location in the legs.
- Front leg: shoulder, elbow, knee, accessory carpal bone, splint bones, fetlock, sesamoid bones, pastern, and coffin bone.
- Hind leg: sacrum (top of the butt), sacroiliac, hip, stifle, hock, splint bones, fetlock, sesamoid bones, pastern, and coffin bone.
Lameness in the front end
With horse lameness in the front end, people often wonder if there is a problem in the shoulder. Please see horse shoulder injuries for more horse facts about that.
Let’s say you’ve gone over all the front leg Body Checkups and they are all normal. That eliminates the joints of the front leg as a cause of your horse’s lameness. The remaining causes include the foot and the tendons & ligaments.
Please see equine tendon injuries for more tendon and ligament information. Please consult your veterinarian and/or farrier for a hoof examination for your horse.
Lameness in the hind end
With lameness in the hind end, very often the hocks are blamed first and questions are asked later. Hock injections and/or joint fluid supplements are often tried. If these haven’t helped your horse the most common underlying problem is up in the pelvis.
To discover if you have a lameness caused by problem in the pelvis, do the Sacrum Checkup. The Sacrum Checkup is one of the most powerful Checkups you can do because the sacrum is one of the two “anchor points” of the spinal cord. Because it is an “anchor point”, if the sacrum is off, then the rest of the spine slowly but surely gets pulled off center as well.
To check your horse’s sacrum for any problems, please click for the complete FREE Sacrum Checkup with step-by-step directions and photos.
If your horse’s Sacrum Checkup results are “probable subluxation”, call your certified equine chiropractor. If your Sacrum Checkup results are “normal”, remember that there are several other Body Checkups to do in the hind end to examine every joint in the hind leg and pelvis.
Let’s say you’ve gone over all the hind leg Body Checkups and they are all normal. That eliminates the joints of the hind leg and pelvis as a cause of your horse’s lameness. The remaining causes include muscles, tendons & ligaments, and the foot.
Please seeequine tendon injuries for more tendon and ligament information. Please consult your veterinarian and/or farrier for a hoof examination for your horse.
2) Lameness coming from a problem in the back, head, neck, or pelvis.
Horse is more obviously lame (of feels more “off”) at a WALK
If your horse’s lameness is more evident at the walk instead of the trot, the lameness is most likely coming from the head, neck, back, or pelvis.
I know this may seem like a long list. However, the Body Checkups are designed to be simple and easy to learn for everyone. By doing these Checkups, you will be able to focus in on your horse’s problem area. You will save yourself frustration and heartache by helping solve your horse’s problem quickly.
If your Body Checkup results are “probably subluxations”, call your certified equine chiropractor. Hopefully with a bit of luck, your horse lameness issue will be over!
If your results are “normal”, then consider looking over Where Does My Horse Hurt? to see if you’d like to purchase it. Then you’ll have all the Body Checkup information (and more!) available to check your horse for the cause of his or her lameness.
Best of luck to you,
Renee Tucker, DVM