What Does a Lame Horse Feel Like?

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What Does a Lame Horse Feel Like?

What does it mean when a horse is lame and what does it feel like? Click here for the telltale signs of a lame horse and how to support joint health.

If you’re a seasoned rider, chances are you’ve felt it: That sometimes subtle sensation that something is not quite right with your horse’s stride. In other words, your horse appears to be lame. 

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, equine lameness is defined as an “abnormal stance or gait caused by either a structural or a functional disorder of the locomotor system.” 

Lameness in horses can occur for a myriad of reasons and present in a number of different ways. It may involve the hooves, any part of the leg, or can stem from something higher up, such as the shoulder, neck, or spine. 

When riding, lameness is most often apparent while at the trot; however, sometimes it can be detected at the walk or lope as well. From nearly non-existent to there-is-no-doubt-about-it, let’s dive into equine lameness and several ways to know if it’s affecting your horse. 

#1: Choppy Gait

When riding, we tend to get a feel for each individual horse’s gait, some which are smoother than others. However, if your horse suddenly develops a choppy gait, this is a telltale sign of a problem. 

Lame horses often shorten their stride in order to decrease time putting weight on a sore limb. This is most noticeable when both forelimbs are affected because the horse isn’t comfortable putting weight on either side. 

#2: Head-Bobbing

One of the most obvious signs of lameness is head-bobbing, where your horse’s head drops lower while putting weight on one particular limb. Head-bobbing most often accompanies front limb lameness and you can determine the affected limb because it will be the one opposite the weight-bearing foot when your horse’s head bobs. 

#3: Stumbling

It’s normal for horses to stumble over rough ground every once in a while. However, when stumbling becomes chronic and happens nearly every time you ride, it’s usually an indicator that something is amiss. Aside from improper hoof care (like overgrown toes), stumbling is usually a sign of pain. 

In fact, stumbling could be due to any one of the following conditions:  

  • Arthritic changes in the joints
  • Navicular pain
  • Fetlock pain
  • Ligament/tendon problems 
  • Musculoskeletal issues higher up in the leg
  • Neck pain, which can impact front limb muscles
  • Neurological dysfunction 

Chronic stumbling should always be taken seriously as it can put both horse and rider at risk for injury. Your veterinarian will likely want to rule out a neurologic condition such as Equine Protozoal Myopathy (EPM) as well. 

#4: Trouble Turning One DIrection

Many lameness issues will present themselves when turning or changing direction. And with this sign, the lameness is usually affecting the same side of the horse as the direction you are turning. This could show up in barrel horses, a reining horse having difficulty with spins, or could even present as a horse refusing to take a certain lead when loping circles in that direction. 

#5: Uneven Hoof Beat Sounds

When riding on a hard, flat surface such as a road, you may be able to detect lameness upon hearing the sound of uneven hoof beats, even if you can’t necessarily feel that something is “off” with your horse. Uneven hoof beats are especially apparent with front-limb lameness. However, if it’s hind-end lameness, you’re more likely to hear a dragging sound. 

#6: Behavioral Problems

Behavioral problems that seem to appear out of nowhere are often a sign of pain and lameness. In fact, bucking, rearing, or resisting saddling can all be symptoms. Any change in your horse’s behavior should be cause for concern; it should also be thoroughly investigated in order to find the possible source of the problem. 

#7: Feeling “Off”

Sometimes, lameness isn’t overly apparent, but you just have a niggling feeling that something is “off” with your horse. Thanks to the bond between rider and horse, this can often enable riders to pick up on these types of subtleties. If something just doesn’t feel right with your horse, chances are, you’re right. 

In such cases, have another equestrian watch your horse move and possibly ride the horse as well so that you can get a second opinion. Your horse may just be having an ‘off day,’ but if the sensation continues, a veterinary evaluation may be warranted.

What To Do if Your Horse is Lame

Some people may take the “wait and see” approach with any kind of subtle lameness issue. If there are no obvious signs of injury, this may not be a problem. The lameness could be the result of a mild injury, or possibly, a developing hoof abscess. 

However, if the lameness continues or worsens, a lameness exam performed by your veterinarian is the best option. This way you may be able to catch some conditions early (such as subclinical laminitis or osteoarthritis). 

A lameness exam typically involves the following:

  • Taking a medical history of the horse
  • Visual examination of the horse at rest
  • Hands-on exam involving palpation of joints, bones, and tendons
  • Use of hoof testers
  • Joint flexion tests
  • Evaluation of the horse in motion

If your veterinarian can pinpoint the source of your horse’s pain, a treatment plan can then be formed. 

Preventing and Treating Common Lameness Problems

Unfortunately, lameness is an extremely common issue, especially in performance and riding horses. It may be due to something simple such as sore muscles or a strain from a previous workout, or it could be a sign of something more serious going on. 

As horses age, osteoarthritis (OA) is a common problem which can lead to stiff joints and decreased performance. In fact, researchers estimate that up to 60% of all equine lameness results from OA. 

Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do to both prevent and treat arthritis in horses, including the use of horse joint supplements, such as 6666 Joint Health Pellets.

This particular horse joint supplement provides the nutritional building blocks to support healthy cartilage, synovial fluid, and connective tissue. This supplement is designed to lessen the symptoms of existing lameness due to arthritis and also prevent arthritic changes from taking place. 

6666 Joint Health Pellets contain the following ingredients, unlike any other joint supplement on the market:

  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin Sulfate
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Boswellia Serrata
  • Cetyl Myristoleate
  • Postbiotic

If you haven’t already, chances are, you will deal with lameness in your horse at some point. Knowing the signs of subtle lameness can help you to get an early start in treating this common problem. 

Additionally, starting supplementation with the highest quality joint supplement for horses can add an extra layer of protection against common causes of lameness.
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