Lameness can occur in both sports and pleasure horses at any time, and is one of the most common problems we hear about from horse owners. Often time consuming and difficult to diagnose, lame horses will sometimes require a full lameness work up to come to a diagnosis and thus what best course of treatment will be to restore them to full working function!
For a full lameness exam, it is best if we have access to a flat, hard surface for trotting up, as well as a soft surface such as a menage or school for lunging. Additionally, if there is a safe hard surface to lunge on, this is ideal.
Firstly, we will examine the standing horse. We look at conformation, the symmetry of their muscles, and check the response to palpation of various structures, as well as feeling for any lumps, swellings or any area differing from the surrounding tissues.
After the stationary exam, we will ask you to walk the horse away from us to assess the walking gait. We will then assess the gait in trot, and watch for any signs of lameness. We may ask you to repeat each gait a number of times in order to get a full picture of how the gait appears. We may also hold their front or hind legs in flexion for 45 seconds to a minute and ask you to trot them off for us. This stresses the joints and tendons that can commonly cause lameness and exacerbate it, making it more obvious for us to spot when watching them trot.
Some lamenesses can be easier to see on a circle, so we may ask you to lunge your horse for us to watch them doing this. It also means we can assess the canter, and look for any signs of lameness or discomfort.
Depending on what is found during the lameness examination, your vet may do a number of things.
If they have a high clinical suspicion that a particular area of your horse is causing lameness, such as the hoof or flexor tendons, then we may skip several of the steps described above and start closer examination of that structure. If not, then your horse will likely have a nerve block performed. This is when local anaesthetic is injected around nerves or into joints to numb certain areas of their legs. If the horse then shows no pain in numbed area, we know more precisely where the problem lies.
If, following these blocks, they trot off sound, then the area of focus is narrowed and further investigations performed. If your horse is still lame then further blocks can be performed until the painful area can be identified.
Depending on what nerve block your horse has responded to, we have the choice of several further diagnostic tests to ascertain why your horse is lame. Our two main tools are radiography, and ultrasound examination.
Radiography (x-ray) is a key tool for identifying bony causes of lameness, allowing us to see changes in bone modelling and identify pathological lesions, as well as a rough length of the duration of the problem.
Ultrasound examination is very useful for looking at tendons and ligaments, allowing us to look at these soft tissue structures and identify any lesions that may be causing lameness.
Once we have identified the cause of lameness, we can then decide what course of treatment is most appropriate. If you’re worried your horse might be lame, call us now to arrange a lameness examination!
Danny is a 7 year old Irish Draught, used mainly for eventing. After a good eventing session at the weekend, Danny’s owner reported he was mildly lame when exercising him in the ménage...
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