Don't be Lame - Causes and Cures for Equine Lameness
October 01, 2009
An athlete's body is trained to handle an amazing amount of work
and stress. From runners to swimmers, all athletes train to handle
the specific stress their sport requires. Unfortunately, it is
still not uncommon for these athletes to injure themselves
performing the very actions they trained for. This is also true of
a horse's body.
Many horses are trained athletes that are bred and conditioned
for a specific sport such as racing, jumping, western performance
or dressage. While these sports are relatively safe, just like a
human athlete, there is always a possibility of injury and in most
cases with horses the injury tends to be lameness. Lameness is an
abnormality of gait that is caused by pain or restriction of
"Most of the injuries we see are muscular/skeletal lamenesses,"
states Dr. Kent Carter, professor of equine lameness and chief o f
medicine at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Large Animal Hospital. "The
lameness can be a result of things such as chipped bones, bowed
tendons and other soft tissue injuries."
The type of lameness is generally dependent on the horse's use.
For example, race horses tend to present injuries such as bowed
tendons or bone chips in joints. Jumpers on the other hand tend to
have more soft tissue injuries.
"Probably the greatest number of cases we see are soft tissue
injuries in the foot and lower limb," notes Carter. "Foot
lamenesses can be caused by traumatic injuries or as a result of a
Of course, your horse doesn't have to be an elite athlete to
suffer an injury. Some can happen as the result of accidents, such
as stepping in a hole or on a rock during a trail ride and twisting
an ankle. Horses can even injure themselves while bucking and
playing in a pasture.
"You should be as aware as possible of the terrain on which you
are riding and make sure that your horse has the proper
conditioning for the activity you are having it perform," urges
Carter. "With that said, even with the best care an animal can
always injure itself."
As a horse owner, it is fairly easy to recognize if your horse
is lame as most likely there will be some limping. If the injury is
further up in the leg it is also possible to see swelling of the
"If you notice that your horse is limping or its leg is swollen
the first thing you want to do is stop exercising them. If you are
knowledgeable you can also apply a pressure wrap around the leg,"
advises Carter. "If it is not getting better or if the limp is
severe you should take them to their veterinarian as soon as
Depending on the type, severity and location of the injury there
are many types of treatment that a veterinarian can perform.
"We prefer to start with rest and support wraps, but when the
injury is more severe we can do anything from pain killers and
injections of anti-inflammatory drugs to surgery," states Carter.
Of course you can't treat a problem until you can diagnose what the
problem is and some lamenesses don't present at all or not fully
until a rider is on the horse.
"The Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine
recently added a state of the art lameness arena to our facility,"
notes Carter. "The surface of this arena helps us to better
diagnose specific lamenesses by putting a rider on a horse and
having them ride."
Once the problem is identified and the veterinarian performs the
treatment regimen there is always a chance that the horse will
either not heal completely or will require additional
"While I would say that for the most part we can at least
benefit most horses with lameness, we can't heal everyone," says
Carter. "We can, however, improve the outcome in the majority of
Most horses with lameness problems will probably have to have
some form of rehabilitation. While most rehab is done at home by
owners, in more severe cases the horses can be sent to
"Rehab centers will have specialized equipment to deal with more
difficult cases," explains Carter. "This can be anything from 24/7
monitoring to water treadmills."
With all the options for the treatment of lameness, the cost of
these procedures can range from relatively inexpensive to thousands
"It's highly dependent on what we do. We can give a simple
injection of anti-inflammatory for less than $100 while some
surgeries can cost over $4,000," states Carter.
In order to avoid expensive procedures and painful injuries the
best prevention is to be aware of your horse's surroundings and try
your best to keep them in good physical condition for their
activities. Of course when injuries do occur, it's important know
how to spot them and what to do in order to keep your four legged
athlete in tip top shape.
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