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Lameness in Horses

Lameness in Horses

Is your horse continuously limping? Don't take it lightly. This article will explain lameness in horses and how you can treat and help your ailing friend.
PetPonder Staff
"...we call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words." - Anna Sewell (Black Beauty)

How true! Any horse lover will agree with Anna Sewell. Just because they can't tell us does not mean that horses can't feel pain. Check to see if your horse has been limping or has adopted a slightly different gait. These could be signs of lameness. Read ahead to know more about it.

What is Lameness in Horses
Lameness in horses is a common health problem and is characterized by a change in the gait of the horse. This change of gait could be due to pain or inflammations caused in the following -
  • Muscles
  • Tendons
  • Joints
  • Feet
  • Skin
How to Identify Lameness in Horses
Check the following points to identify if your horse could be lame -
  • Abnormal Posture: To check if the horse has an abnormal stance, check if it favors one leg more than the other while running, it could be a sign of lameness.
  • Difficulty in Movement: If your horse is exhibiting reluctance to make some very easy movements, lameness could be the problem.
  • Limp: If a horse stumbles or is running with restricted movements, it could mean that either one or all the legs are hurt.
  • Arc of Foot: If the horse is lame, the arc of the foot during flight will not be up to the mark due to pain and muscle restriction.
  • Resting Position: A fit horse rests by placing more weight on the front legs while letting the hind legs relax. If this is not what your horse is doing, there are chances that it is hurt.
  • Unusual Gait: Make the horse walk in a circle on a level surface, in a straight line, and also trot a little on different surfaces. If you sense that the horse is experiencing any difficulty, it could be hurt.
How to Identify Which Leg is Hurt
Once you've realized that your horse is hurt, you need to find out where? Read below to ascertain which of the horse's legs could be hurting and where.

Front Legs
A lame horse will co-ordinate its head movements with its stride. Look to see if the head is turned upwards at regular intervals. This means that there could be a lameness in the horse's front leg. Also, a horse is more likely to limp if its front legs are hurt. This will also prevent it from standing in its usual relaxed position, i.e., keeping the front legs at a 90 degree angle to the ground. It may keep the front foot off the ground by pointing the toe towards the ground.

Hind Legs
If there's lameness in the horse's hind leg, the horse will lean towards the good side while running. When standing, the horse may constantly shift its weight form one hind leg to another. This is another sign of hind leg lameness. Another sign is, if the horse picks up one hind leg and then very gently puts it down, toe first. If your horse does not let you touch or pick up its hind leg, it is definitely in pain.

Stifle Lameness
The stifle is the largest and the most complicated joint in the horse's legs. It could be called the 'knee' of the horse, though this is debated because the horse has four legs and its front legs are considered as arms. In case of stifle lameness, the horse may find it difficult to walk up and down a slope. In case of a single stifle injury, the horse may not use that leg at all. It may drag it and use the other three legs to move around. Also, if it shows a stiffness while walking, there are chances that its stifle is injured.

Given below are some simple treatments that you can give your horse before visiting the veterinarian.
  • Cold Water: Splash the affected limb with cold water to soothe the inflammation. Do this for about 15-20 minutes, 5-6 times a day.
  • Hot Water: This is suitable for lower leg injuries. Fill a bucket with hot water and add enough salt to it. Place the affected leg (after greasing the heel) in the bucket for 15-20 minutes.
  • Poultice: Make a poultice using bran mash and salt and tie this to the inflamed leg. It will soothe the inflammation until you reach the veterinarian.
This was a brief overview of lameness in horses and how you can give it some basic treatment. Do not ignore any symptoms. Take your horse to the vet at once if they persist. Remember, the horse may be experiencing excruciating pain. So avoid riding until the veterinarian gives you the go ahead. Pamper your horse while it recuperates!