Monday, August 30, 2010

Horse Health Care - Checking Lameness in a Horse

I received a private message from David in Elk Grove, Illinois concerning lameness in his horse. David asked: "It seems quite a bit my horse starts limping, sometimes even after days where I don't ride him. What do I look for and when do I need to call a Vet?"

Any number of things can cause apparent lameness in a Horse. A muscle, ligament or tendon strain; a foreign object penetration of the hoof; recent hoof trimming where too much hoof is taken off – this is called quicking the hoof and is much like when humans cut too much finger nail off; and, sometimes a horseshoer can drive nail too deep into the hoof and enter the living laminae of the hoof.

Horse’s often roll and get cast – this is where their legs and hoofs are underneath or through a fence, usually only momentarily, but trauma can occur to their boney joints of soft tissue.

When one of my horses or a horse I am asked to look at comes up lame, I’ll start from the ground up. First moving him around a little to see what leg he is giving to. From there I start at the hoof and work my way up attempting to determine the cause.

I’ll check for heat from the hoof up to the elbow. Heat often indicates inflammation and therefore can localize the problem. Heat around the hoof can indicate founder and a Vet needs to be called immediately. I’ll clean the hoof and check for foreign object penetration of the hoof or evidence of a stone bruise and if the shoeing was recent, look for evidence of bleeding and see if the nails where driven in too deep (or high on the hoof wall).

As I work my way up the leg, I’ll squeeze to see if the horse gives to it indicating the problem area. I check around the coronet band of the hoof. Sometimes a foreign object will penetrate the hoof and come of near the coronet band. And check the heel bulbs where sometimes the horse will overstep and cut himself.

I’ll check the pastern for pain on pressure and obvious signs of trauma; the same with the fetlock. I’ll move up the long cannon bone and pay particular attention to the tendon running along the back of the cannon bone as often this will be strained or swell. If the horse has a “bowed” tendon it will be apparent through your feel. I’ll check and squeeze around the knee and look for signs of fluid buildup.

Sometimes I’ll flex the leg for 40 seconds or so, let go, then quickly move the horse off to see if that makes him give to that leg more. Sometimes this is indicative of a injury (permanent or temporary) to the knee joint. In any case, if your horse is very lame or slightly lame for more than a couple days, I think it’s time to get a Vet out. And I always err on the side of caution and would call a Vet earlier rather than later. If your horse, as in David’s case, appears to be lame quite a bit of the time, sometimes a joint product like Glucosamine can help. Hope this video helps.

Another tool to check for hoof problems or the hoof as a cause for lameness is the Hoof Tester. Use of this tool needs to be careful. You can squeeze too hard and get any horse to flinch, but the idea behind this tool is to introduce pinpoint pressure on the hoof to see if you can localize the problem to the hoof and a specific area of the hoof. The below video demonstrates the use of the hoof tester.

Western Horseman offers, from their excellent line of horsemanship books, a book titled “Understanding Lameness” by Terry Swanson, DVM. This is book is available here at the bottom of his page or to the left under Horsemanship Books, My Recommendations. I highly recommend this book but I’ll admit I have much to learn on the subject of lameness.

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