Last Updated on January 12, 2022
Horses are wonderful athletic animals, but unfortunately, many things can go wrong with them! You will hear people talk about lame horses, but what is a lame horse?
Let’s take an in-depth look and find out all about lameness is in horses!
What Does It Mean To Be A Lame Horse?
Lameness is the name used for when a horse is limping, or there is an abnormal change in its gait. This is normally in response to an injury, or because of a defect that prevents the horse from moving normally.
There are many different types of lameness in horses, and they all occur for different reasons. Some lameness problems may be very mild or might not last for long. Others could be very severe or go on for a long time.
What Are The Signs Of A Lame Horse?
Lameness in horses can appear in various stages of severity, and it may not always be easy to spot. Here are some of the key signs of lameness in horses:
- Abnormal gait
When a horse is suffering from lameness, you may notice that they are moving differently from normal. The length of the stride might be shortened when the affected leg hits the ground, or he might avoid putting this leg on the floor at all. You might notice that your horse nods his head as he walks or trots – this is caused by pain when the affected limb makes contact with the ground.
- Difficulty weight bearing
When a lame horse is stood still, he may hold the affected foot or leg slightly off the floor, to avoid bearing weight. If he is lame on two or more legs, he might continuously shift his weight from one foot to another. The horse might avoid moving as this causes him pain, or he might lay down more than normal.
- Swelling or injury
You might notice that a lame horse has painful or swollen areas on his legs. This might be localized swelling over a particular area, or more widespread around the limb. You might also see a cut or scabby area if the horse has been injured.
How Do Horses Become Lame?
There are many reasons why a horse might become lame, and it sometimes requires many diagnostic tests to find the cause.
The lameness might be due to an injury that has strained or sprained a muscle, tendon, or ligament. This can be caused by the horse overexerting himself, for example by galloping an unfit horse across rough terrain.
Other lameness issues could be caused by problems with the skeletal system. This includes problems with the bones, such as fractures. Other skeletal system issues can occur within the joints, such as degenerative arthritis.
Lameness may also be caused by injury to the limb. Even a simple cut can be painful for the horse and may cause him to limp. He may also have trodden on an object that is causing pain in the hoof.
Another potential cause of lameness in horses is something called mechanical lameness. This is where the horse does not feel pain, but cannot move the limb normally because of a defect.
How Is Lameness In Horses Diagnosed?
If you suspect that your horse is lame, there are several actions you should immediately take. Firstly, stop whatever activity your horse is doing and make sure he stands still.
Next, you need to carefully examine the limbs to see if you can find an obvious reason for the lameness. Look over the legs for any cuts, grazes, bruising, or swelling. If they look fine, run your hands gently down them to feel for penetrating objects such as thorns, or any localized swelling.
Finally, gently lift the affected limb and check the hoof for stones or any penetrating objects. If you find anything on your initial examination, this should be reported to your veterinarian who will advise you on the best course of treatment.
However, if all seems OK, then try to walk the horse slowly back to your barn. If he seems reluctant to move then don’t force him – he is trying to tell you that something hurts, and you should listen to him! If the lameness improves as he walks then it is a good idea to rest the horse for a few hours then check him again.
For lameness that does not improve, a veterinary examination may be necessary. You will need to give your veterinarian a full history of the problem, and they will check your horse thoroughly to try and identify the source of the lameness. If nothing is immediately apparent, further diagnostic tests may be required.
Tests for lameness include movement examinations, flexion tests, and nerve blocks. These will help to identify the source of the pain. The veterinarian may then perform diagnostic tests such as radiographs and ultrasound scans.
Can A Lame Horse Be Cured?
Whether a lame horse can be cured depends entirely on the source of the problem. If it is just a minor cut to the skin, the lameness should disappear when this heals. Strains and sprains may require a longer period of rest and a slow, gentle return to work.
Lameness caused by problems with the bones and joints can take a lot longer to cure, and may never get entirely better. Some fractures in horses may sadly result in the euthanasia of the horse, as they cannot heal properly. Joint problems may require regular medication and ongoing joint supplements.
Learn more about Common Horse Hoof Problems and How to Detect Them on Time.
So, as we have learned, when a horse is lame this means that it is limping or has an abnormal gait. Lameness in horses can be because of injury, degenerative changes, or mechanical problems. Ongoing lameness will need to be investigated by your veterinarian to find the cause.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on lameness in horses! Did your horse have a lameness problem that was difficult to resolve? Or perhaps you have some questions about how to care for a lame horse? Leave a question below and we’ll get back to you!
Read more about What Is Heaves In Horses?
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse
care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since
she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local
stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She
has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in
various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the
patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went
on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in
the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of
horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for
educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN REVN RVN A1