Don’t be lame – The causes and cures for horse lameness

October 14, 2009

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, 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 caused by pain or restriction of movement.
“Most of the injuries we see are muscular/skeletal lamenesses,” states Dr. Kent Carter, professor of equine lameness and chief of 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. “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 degenerative process.”

Injuries 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 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.”

If your horse is lame most likely there will be some limping; if the injury is further up in the leg it may swell.

“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 possible.”

Depending on the type, severity and location of the injury there are many types of treatment.

“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.

“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 cases.”

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 rehabilitation centers.

With all the options for the treatment of lameness, the cost of these procedures can range from relatively inexpensive to thousands of dollars.

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.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed

Trail Riding: It’s a discipline too

leslie nicholsIt’s amazing to me the angst riders experience as they are venturing into the world of trail riding. A trail ride (usually in a group of equine strangers) seldom goes smoothly.

What gives? After all, the show horse is well-trained, isn’t he? And surely, the calm and quiet backyard horse wants some adventure in her life, doesn’t she?

The biggest problem I see helping horse owners transition their horses into becoming solid trail mounts, is unrealistic expectations about the process. It is tempting to think training should automatically transfer into a group trail ride scenario, and it’s also tempting to think the horse is a beast of nature, and therefore, trail riding should come, well … naturally.

It doesn’t always happen that way. But the answer is easier than you think. If you approach trail riding as a separate discipline with a plan and goals attached to it, you will be successful and safe in your endeavor.

How do you begin? Evaluate your horse by asking: On the trail, where are he and I today? What are the challenges we face?

Set goals for this discipline. Define a long-term goal, such as “I’d like to be able to take my horse on camping trips with large groups.” Second, create short-term goals, such as “I want to ride around the neighborhood alone with my horse and be safe.”

Create a plan (preferably with the help of a professional) to help you get there. Like any discipline, this plan needs to be broken down into manageable bites. Work the plan and let your horse’s behavior tell you how it’s going. If he is developing confidence, if he is manageable (for your level) and you and he are having fun, then the plan is going well. If you or your horse continues to be frightened, his actions are beyond your skill set and you are not having fun, then you need to slow down, rethink the plan, and possibly consult a professional.

The good news is the discipline of trail riding is pleasurable for both you and your horse and typically, you will achieve success very quickly.

Leslie Nichols is a progressive horsemanship professional and innovator of the Leslie Nichols Relaxation Program for horses and their owners, and The Fusion Method for Starting Horses. Contact her at