Horse Lameness

Lameness is probably the most common veterinary problem with which the horse owner is confronted. The possibility of the horse going lame increases with the speed at which he is required to work and with the demands of competition riding.

There are many reasons for a horse becoming lame: an injury, disease, immaturity, old age, or heredity. Some lameness is peculiar to certain types of horses and the work that they I required to do. A major cause of lameness is the horse being asked to carry out activities for which he has not been sufficiently well prepared.

Lameness is manifested by the horse in his stance or gait. In severe cases, he may, whilst standing still, rest a leg or even hold it entirely off the ground. The lameness may show in walking but it is usually most easily seen when the horse is trotting.

Foreleg lameness is most easily seen as the horse is trotted toward one. As the lame leg comes to the ground he will lift his head to take the weight off that leg. As the sound leg comes to the ground, he will lower his head again. Hind leg lameness is best seen as the horse is trotted away. The hindquarter on the lame side will be raised as the foot or leg that is in pain is on the ground. The quarter will be lowered as the sound leg is on the ground.

The difficulty arises when the horse is lame in both forelegs or diagonally lame, for instance in the left foreleg and the right handled. In principle, he will try to reduce the weight that the painful limb, or limbs, are bearing.

Having identified the limb in which the horse is lame, the seat of lameness must then be established. This is usually shown by the presence of a wound, heat, pain, swelling, or a combination of two or more of these symptoms. Infection is at times identified by smell, as with thrush for instance. Where none of these symptoms are present, a deep examination will probably be required. X-ray or nerve blocking can be used, both of which require professional attention.

The chances of avoiding lameness are increased by:

  • 1 Meticulous daily care of the feet. Regular picking out. Care of the frog, sole, and walls of the hoof.
  • 2 Careful, regular, and correct shoeing.
  • 3 Progressive training and preparation for hunting or competition riding.
  • 4 Feeding the correct diet.
  • 5 Good stable management.
  • 6 Fitting the horse with protective boots or bandages when required.
  • 7 Avoiding work on very hard or very wet ground.

Lameness is most often caused by problems in the foot. The sole and the frog are very vulnerable to puncture wounds which can cause infection. This in turn brings heat and swelling, causing pain in the confined area within the hoof.

Pus in the foot This is a major cause of lameness and can arise from the infection of any foot injury. Its presence can often be established by manual examination. Pressing hard with the fingers on the sole, frog, bulbs of the heels, or the coronet, or tapping the wall of the hoof lightly with a hammer, may result in the horse flinching when the painful area is touched.

This examination, palpation as it is called, should be carried out with care, especially when severe pain is expected. Pus may be dispersed with antibiotics. It may also be drained by a veterinary surgeon or skilled farrier by surgical means. This course should never be undertaken by the unskilled. Relief of pain can be obtained by poulticing or tubbing the foot. This treatment causes the abscess to mature and burst, sometimes through the coronet.

Laminitis This condition, which is more likely to affect ponies than horses, is caused by over-feeding or a pony being allowed too much rich, spring grass. This results in the inflammation and swelling of the sensitive laminae within the feet causing great pressure and pain. The condition occurs mainly in the forefeet.

The animal will be reluctant to move and in severe cases will stand on his heels, with the forelegs stretched out in front in an attempt to take the weight off the feet. Laminitis can be treated successfully by immediate veterinary attention but if left it will almost certainly result in irreversible damage. Temporary relief can be given to the animal by cold hosing the feet or standing him in a cool running stream.

Navicular disease This condition sometimes arises in the horse at about seven years of age. It is the deterioration of a small bone deep in the foot called the navicular bone. The reasons for its deterioration are not yet entirely agreed upon by the veterinary profession but various treatments do exist to relieve its effects.

The onset of navicular disease is usually shown by a rather pottery stride, and lameness may come and go in the early stages. Both feet are usually affected although the symptoms may show rather more in one than the other. An X-ray of the feet may be required to confirm the presence of navicular disease.

Upright, boxy feet with contracted heels and steep pasterns are more prone to this disease than are feet with better conformation. It is probably due to the increased concussion on the foot, caused by this upright conformation, that this disease is encouraged.

Whilst modern painkillers reduce the effect of navicular disease, the morality of their use must be questionable. Certainly, the horse in which navicular disease is confirmed is finished as a reliable competition horse. Isis’s future as a riding horse must, at least, be suspect.

Ringbone is an arthritic condition causing pain in the foot or lower part of the leg. Where it occurs between the long and the short pastern hones it is known as a ‘high’ ringbone and where it occurs between the short pastern bone and the pedal bone it is called a low’ ringbone: These conditions are also sometimes known as ‘true’ or ‘false’ ringbone. Its presence can be felt around these joints as a bony growth at the front and sides of the pastern bone. With a mild form, the horse can continue in work to a degree depending on the severity of the condition. Ringbone however will most likely preclude horse 11 from any serious competition work.

Corns These are found on the underside of the foot, usually at the seat of corn. They are caused by sustained or repeated pressure, often from an ill-fitting shoe, which bruises the sensitive part of the foot. The corn can be cut out by the veterinary surgeon or the farrier. The hole is plugged and the horse is fitted with a corn shoe designed to take the pressure off the seat of the corn.

Thrush This is an infection of the foot found in and around the cleft of the frog. It is generally accepted to be caused by neglect and poor stable management and is the result of allowing organic matter to build up and remain in the areas of the foot that are abnormally deprived of ventilation and fresh air. The decomposition of this organic matter causes infection, and a foul condition and smell become present in the foot.

The horse’s feet should be thoroughly picked out at least once a day when he is kept on grass and three or four times a day when stabled. When thrush is found, the foot should be thoroughly picked out, and scrubbed with soap and water. It must then be completely dried and dressed with an antiseptic astringent such as Stockholm tar or creosote. Mild thrush is unlikely to cause lameness, but if it is allowed to become a chronic condition, lameness may well occur.

Pedal ostitis (inflammation of the pedal bone) Pedal ostitis is usually caused by repeated concussions. It may occur in both forefeet but usually, only one is involved. The symptoms are similar to those of navicular disease: there is a pottery action and lameness, which goes on when the horse is rested. It is generally thought to be incurable but expert shoeing and careful use may keep the sufferer in modest work.

Bruised sole Some horses have, particularly thin soles and are, consequently, prone to this injury. It is, however, not confined to thin-soled horses and is usually caused by treading on a stone or some other hard object. Rest is the most effective treatment, sometimes helped by rubbing the foot. Horses that suffer persistently from bruising of the sole can be protected by having a leather pad fitted under the shoe to cover the sole, or by wearing hoods that protect the sole.

Sidebones These are caused by the ossification of the lateral cartilages which are two wings of cartilage on either side of the foot about level with the coronary hand and just in front of the bulbs of the heels. In a young horse, this would be considered to be unsoundness as it may suggest a tendency to form new bones together with the lameness that it may cause. It is less serious in older horses in that in time all cartilage tends to ossify and once the ossification is complete the horse will usually work soundly.

Seedy be This is a separation of the horn of the foot from the sensitive, underlying tissues. It can appear in any part of the hoof but is usually at the toe. It is sometimes caused, and certainly aggravated, by grit or dirt being forced up into the gap between the horn and the underlying tissue. It is usually the result iii pressure or careless shoeing, but at times the cause is difficult to identify. The cure must be effected by the vet and the blacksmith.

Sandcrack This is a crack that appears in the hoof starting at the corner and extending down the wall of the hoof to some degree. It is usually caused by injury to the coronet or something that interferes with the proper nutrition of the horn. Veterinary advice should be sought for horses suffering from this condition.

Grass cracks These appear in the wall of the hoof starting at the bottom and working up towards the coronet. They are usually caused by injury to the horn and are generally found in unshod animals. Poor nutrition of the horn and neglect of the feet may contribute to this condition. Treatment consists of the removal of the causes and the blacksmith burning a groove in the horn at the top of the crack to discourage its progress up the hoof.

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