What does it mean when a horse is “lame”?

A lameness is defined as any alteration of gait, but can also include changes in attitude or performance, and is usually associated with pain.


When should I call my vet?

While a lameness issue is not considered an emergency, it is best to have a lameness examination performed sooner rather than later to prevent further injury and potentially save time and money.  Knowing the exact cause of a lameness will result in a more direct treatment plan.


What occurs during a lameness examination?

Your veterinarian will usually ask you for information about your horse, such as how often he/she is exercised and what type of work he/she does.  Your vet will also ask about the lameness, including how long it has been apparent and if any medications or time off seem to help.

Next, your vet will evaluate your horse’s conformation to determine if he/she is predisposed to discomfort in certain areas.  Your veterinarian will palpate your horse’s muscles, joints, and soft-tissues for signs of pain, heat, or swelling.  Hoof testers will also be used on the hooves to determine if there are areas of tenderness in the hoof.

Finally, your veterinarian will evaluate your horse in motion.  The horse will be walked and trotted on a flat hard surface (concrete) and watched for signs of irregular gait.  Your veterinarian will watch your horse from the front, back, and sides as they travel.  Your horse may also be lunged at the trot and canter to evaluate his/her gait further.

Joint flexions will be performed by flexing and holding certain joints in the limbs, then releasing the joint and watching the horse travel.  Putting stress on the flexed joints may reveal abnormalities otherwise not seen.


How is a lameness diagnosed?

Based on your veterinarian’s evaluation of your horse in motion, he/she may want to perform further diagnostics to determine an exact cause of lameness.  This can include radiographs, ultrasound exams, or nerve blocks.


For more information about lameness examinations, visit the AAEP website.