Five signs to look out for which may indicate your horse is lame and how to pinpoint the problem.
Lameness is a bugbear all year round and in winter it can be particularly difficult to try and diagnose the problem in poor lighting when your horse is covered in mud to the knees. To make life easier check out the following 5 signs which could suggest there is a problem and tell you how to pinpoint the issue.
1. Resting a front leg
Some horses may prefer to rest one leg when stood in the stable or field. They may also swap from one leg to another when uncomfortable. It is fairly common for a horse to rest a hind leg when dozing but if you see them resting a front leg or ‘pointing’ a front toe this may mean your horse is lame.
2. Different way of going
You may notice some subtle differences when riding your horse. His stride may feel slightly different, or he may show reluctance going forward or be unwilling to perform to his usual level.
3. Reluctance to bear weight
When picking your horse’s feet out you might find that he is unwilling to pick up one foot. If he is normally good to pick up his feet, this may indicate he is struggling to fully weight bear on the foot opposite to the one you are asking him to lift.
4. Heat in a leg
If you run your hand down his legs during grooming or before picking out his feet you may feel a spot that seems warmer than normal.
5. Nodding in trot
Try walking or trotting your horse in hand on a loose rein to allow free head movement, and see if your horse nods when he puts one particular foot on the ground. If viewing him from behind while someone else leads him you might notice that his hip movement is asymmetrical and he may have a shortened stride on one side.
Pinpointing the problem
Check all legs for any heat, swelling or pain-led reactions by running your hand down each one. The majority of lameness problems are found in the feet so check all around the hooves for heat, including the sole. Check around the coronary band for swelling and thoroughly inspect the sole for signs of punctures or bruising. If your horse is shod, carefully check the condition of the shoes and position of the nails.
The digital pulses found on either side of the fetlock joint are a valuable tool. If they are racing this is often a sign of foot pain such as laminitis or an abscess. 60 beats per minute or more could be a sign of trouble. The norm is having no obvious pulse or just a faint one of 28-40.
Observe your horse in walk and trot both in a straight line and on a circle. This should help you identify which leg the problem is in. He may drag a toe, shorten his stride or nod his head when that foot hits the ground. Also listen carefully as his feet hit the floor, often a lame foot is quieter as the horse is reluctant to put as much weight on it.
Cold hosing and box rest may help but if you are in any doubt at all or your horse is showing signs of distress you should call a vet.
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