Horse Advice-- What to Do if Your Horse Goes Lame

There's plenty of horse advice when it comes to lameness. A horse shows he is in pain by going lame. Horses were originally wild animals, and as such, could not whine or whimper when they were in pain or their predators would know and attack.  Lameness is seen when there is a change in the horse's normal gait or stance. Many times it is temporary and resolves itself with just rest.

Lameness is easiest to diagnose when the horse is trotting.  If he is not moving evenly, then something is wrong, probably with just one front leg. If a back leg hurts he will lean on the other leg. If the horse hurts in both front legs or all four legs, he will move with a stumbling gait. Other signs include throwing the head when trotting, or showing a reluctance to move.  A healthy horse stands with his front legs perpendicular to the ground; if his legs are not under his body, but splayed to the front, he is lame.

By being observant to your horse's normal trot and stance you will become aware when he is lame. If he is showing signs of lameness, it is best not to ride him. But you do need to try to find the problem. The first place to look is the feet, the most common source of lameness. You can check to see if any pebbles are lodged in crevices of the feet. You can also look for any dark splotches that might indicate bruising.  Laminitis (founder) is a painful inflammation of the feet, usually caused by overeating. Look to see if the feet are cracked.  If the feet were recently trimmed, one possibility is that may have been cut too short. If the horse was just shod, perhaps a nail went astray, in which case you will need to call your farrier.

You should also check the legs for any swelling or heat since it is possible that your horse may have pulled a ligament or tendon. There may be a problem in any of the joints; horses can develop arthritis and bursitis just like people do. Many horses develop sore backs; if he resists when you saddle him, or flinches when you brush his back, he could have a backache.

Navicular Disease is caused by the degeneration of the navicular bone in the hoof. It usually occurs in the front feet. There is no cure, but it can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications to ease the pain.  A horse that seizes up when you are riding him or shows signs of stiffness or reluctance to move may have a condition known as Azoturia, or tying up. It is caused by too much lactic acid in the muscles, often brought on by a diet too rich in oats.

If your horse shows signs of lameness, do not ride him. Look for the obvious causes and if the condition does not go away in a few days, you should promptly call your veterinarian for an examination.