As a horse owner it is important that you are aware of any health conditions that can affect your animal, in terms of spotting that something is wrong and knowing how to treat it effectively. 

This month we are looking at lameness in horses, a condition that can become serious and sometimes fatal if it is not dealt with quickly. 

Signs that your horse is lame

If your horse is lame you may notice that they have an abnormal gait when they walk. This is common in relation to poor performance, especially if they have been better in the past. Some of the main signs that lameness is an issue are as follows;

  • Your horse may find it difficult to walk forwards
  • There may be a refusal to jump obstacles
  • They prefer one rein to the other
  • You may notice a change in behaviour
  • They may swish their tail and twist their head more than usual
  • Prefers isolation over being with other horses
  • A change in appetite 
  • Sweating more than normal
  • Laying down more in order to be off their feet
  • They might drag one or both feet if lame on the hind legs
  • They will be less playful and not move as much

Causes of lameness

Lameness can be caused by a variety of things, so you may not be able to pinpoint the reason straightaway. It can often be caused by pain or a band of abnormal and hard tissue in the muscle or tendon areas. Other areas that you should investigate when you are trying to find the cause of lameness are;

  • Bruises or an injury to the hoof
  • A fracture or sprain
  • Arthritis
  • Back or neck injury
  • Infection
  • Laminitis - this can be fatal so must be treated immediately

How to diagnose lameness in horses

It is advisable to consult a vet if you are concerned that your horse is lame, but you will be able to carry out some tests of your own in the meantime. If you find the reason straightaway and it is a clear and obvious solution then you may be able to treat them yourself.

  • Observation is key - see how your horse moves and ask someone else to trot them while you watch. They may nod their head if lame on the forelimb
  • Run your hands over the body and legs, looking out for flinches where it hurts
  • Check for swelling
  • Check the feet for wear patterns where they have been avoiding using it
  • Does it feel different when you’re sat in the saddle? Are they rigid, relaxed or walking evenly?
  • Look from the front and the back to see if any muscles are less defined that others, which is a sign that they have been working it less due to pain

How to treat lameness

The treatment will depend on what the cause is, so may vary quite widely. On some occasions lameness can fix itself, such as if your horse has an abscess on the hoof that bursts and will eventually get better. Even if this is the case, it is advisable to treat it where you can, in case such an injury is open to infection. Other treatment options could include;

  • Consult a vet
  • Stable your horse so they have time and space to rest
  • Do not ride them if you suspect they have an injury
  • Give them a break if you think they are sore to let them recover
  • Ice any inflammation as soon as you can
  • Rehabilitate through gentle exercise
  • Use anti-inflammatory medication that is prescribed by the vet
  • Your horse may need an MRI to help pinpoint the problem

Take a look at our extensive equestrian range, including grooming products, horse boots and first aid items, which can help you look after their health in an aim to prevent injury and illness.


Post By Kimberley Roderick