Unlike other animals such as dogs, horses do not normally whine or indicate when they are hurt. As a result, when you own a horse, you have to be especially attentive to any changes or symptoms. One of the ways in which horses deal with pain is by limping or going lame.
Lameness could occur in any of the legs though hind leg problems are more common in horses. In most cases, lameness is temporary and with proper care and treatment, your horse can recover completely.
Unfortunately, if the lameness is chronic and does not abate with medication or treatment, euthanasia is the only option.
Symptoms of Lameness
Some of the warning signs that you should look out for include:
• Lameness is most obvious when the horse is trotting.
• Sudden hind leg lameness in horses results in an uneven gait.
• A horse may exhibit a minor hitch in his stride or be reluctant to place any weight on one foot.
• When the sore foot hits the ground, horses also tend to throw up their heads in pain.
• Hind leg lameness may also cause the horse to lean towards the healthier side.
• A horse may drag the toe of the hurt foot.
• If all feet are hurt, the horse will move with a short ungainly stride and keep his head up at all times.
• In cases of hind leg lameness, the horse will raise the hip of the lame side higher when trotting.
• Diagnosing hind leg lameness is tougher and an extra test that involves turning the horse in tight circles towards the right and the left may help indicate which leg he is afraid to put any weight on.
As an observant horse owner, you need to keep a watch for any change in gait or symptoms and report the same to your vet to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Remember that a horse that is lame hurts. Don’t ride a lame horse unless specifically directed to by a veterinarian. Finding out the cause of the lameness is the next step. Some possible causes include:
• Cracks or bruises in the sole, or stones that are wedged in, causing the pain.
• If the shoes have been recently trimmed, they may now be too short and cause discomfort and pain.
• A nail near the hoof could be a possible culprit.
• If the pulse in the hoof is rapid and the foot is warm, it could be an infection.
• Any swelling in the leg could indicate a ligament pull or injury to a tendon.
• Horse’s joints tend to get arthritic in old age.
• Over worked horses may develop sore backs. This translates into lameness in the legs as well.
• Laminitis or founder are medical conditions that cause painful inflammation of the front or hind feet.
• Navicular disease involves a degeneration of the navicular bone in the foot. Lameness in such cases may come and go but persists over a long duration of time.