Lameness is very common and can be caused by something as simple as a bruise to the horse's hoof or a corn, though tendon problems and fractures are much more severe and will need immediate attention. Lucinda Green shares her thoughts and experiences to help you spot lameness in your horse.
Day to day ‘rituals’
There are several things an owner can do on a daily basis to monitor their horse’s well-being and identify lameness. Regular leg checks mean that you can familiarize yourself to how the legs feel and any changes that occur. As the owner, you know your horse best and these daily checks can allow you to spot any abnormalities in his wellbeing. When examining your horse it is important to check for any swelling or heat around joints as this could indicate that the horse is in pain and lame.
A common cause of lameness which is overlooked is excess feeding. I have travelled around the world teaching and the majority of the problems that my clients face come from this simple fact. Whilst it is important to have good condition on your horse, you must remember not to let him become too fat, as this can lead to lameness or even result in laminitis.
In the winter, horses usually hold less fat, so expect them to be slighter in winter as opposed to the summer. This is apparently how nature intended it and, from experience, a consistently overweight horse all year round can lead to laminitis or Cushings disease. Additionally overfeeding a horse could prompt hind gut problems, which can result in him reacting to the pain by kicking or travelling unlevel behind.
Pre-competition prevention tips
In the run-up to a competition I like to trot up my horse each day to make sure he is sound. I also have a final check of their legs before loading them to travel to a competition. Trotting a horse up is something that riders of all abilities should be familiar with and the correct procedures for trotting up a horse must be in place in order to understand the principles of lameness. These are as follows:
Make sure you are fully equipped with the correct footwear and a riding hat
Use a suitable lead rope that allows the horse to have their head
Ensure that you trot the horse on a straight and hard surface that is quiet
Trot the horse for around 30 metres both ways so that the horses movement can be seen from the front and behind
Make sure that the horse is level with your shoulder so you are not altering his natural movement.
Trotting your horse up correctly whilst he is observed will allow you to have a better chance of making a diagnosis prior to calling the vet.
Uncommon causes of lameness
With any lameness the first place to look would be the lower limb. Examples of lower limb problems can include, but are not limited to, infections in the foot. Mud fever or boot rub can lead to an infection which creates heat and pain, likewise the thorns on a blackthorn plant are sharp enough to pierce the skin around the hoof, again causing infection and lameness.
The causes of lameness can sometimes be a result of problems that occur above the leg. Over the years, I have been in contact with horses that are lame but have no obvious discomfort in the lower limbs and if there is no obvious cause you have to look further.
Despite lower limb problems being a common cause of lameness I can give a few examples of where the causes of lameness have been a secondary result of a more complex issue. For example a horse that was intermittently lame on each foot was found to have a Vitamin B deficiency. This in turn affected the muscle structure causing the lameness. Another example is azoturia or "tying up"; this is when there is an imbalance of feed and exercise resulting in severe cramp. The horse can then hardly move and appears lame on all four legs. With both of these examples the owners sought veterinary advice before jumping to conclusions.
Being able to spot lameness comes with experience. Despite this, I feel it is important to always seek advice from your vet no matter how much experience you have as getting a second opinion is vital.
Lucinda Green is an ambassador for Petplan Equine and is supporting their drive on ‘Spotting Lameness’. Petplan Equine’s ambition is to help owner’s spot, deal and manage lameness in horses and ponies. For more information on equine lameness visit the Petplan Equine website www.petplanequine.co.uk