Is your horse lame?
Lameness is the nightmare of all horse owners. Having a horse that is lame not only means that our horse is in pain, potentially large vet bills and time spent treating the problem, but also lost time enjoying your horse.
Sometimes when riding or watching your horse running in the paddock, you’ll notice that something isn’t quite right, and sometimes it is difficult to know which leg they may be lame on if you don't know what to look for. So, if you think your horse is lame, what do you need to do?
For starters, as long as your horse doesn't appear to be walking on three legs (in which case, call the vet/farrier), it is both a good idea to lunge him each way to see if he is favouring a particular leg, as well as getting someone else to trot him away from and towards you. Make sure you are on a level, even and hard surface as a soft surface overexerts the tendons making a diagnosis more difficult. It is important to make sure your horse is on a loose lead, as being on a tight lead prevents the horse from moving naturally, and you may restrict the free movement which gives us a clue to the problem. the general assessment for detecting lameness is the same for all breeds of horses - whether you have a Shire horse or a Shetland pony.
Forelegs:- generally you will be able to tell which leg your horse is lame on by what is generally known as the 'head-bob' As he puts down the leg that is sore, his head will bob up - like he is trying to get away from the pain on that leg. He may also not put that leg down for as long on the ground, or extend the leg as far forward as the other ‘sound leg’, so you will be able to hear the uneven footfall of his stride
Hind legs:- it is a little trickier to determine if he is lame and on which side. This is why I like to have someone trot him up and back for me as it makes it a bit easier to see. If your horse is lame on a hind leg, he may display a 'hip-hike' motion in his back end. When you watch from behind, one hip will hike or dip more than the other, and when watching from the side, the sore leg may not be brought forward or track-up as far as the other one - again the horse will have an uneven footfall.
Generally speaking, the most common site of lameness is below the knee, with the hoof being the most common culprit. It is important to feel for swelling or heat all the way up the leg - this will help you to determine where in the leg the horse is sore. You can also determine if your horse is in pain as he will flinch away from pressure on the sore spot. In the hoof, look for cracks or bulges, and odour is also important. Check the sole for foreign objects and pain too. If you are at all concerned after examining your horse, always call your vet or farrier.