11 Equine Lameness Prevention Tips

These simple steps can go a long way toward keeping your horse sound. Read more in this article from The Horse‘s Fall 2023 issue.
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Practical proactive considerations for keeping any horse sound

Tips for Returning Horses to Work After Soft-Tissue Injury
Allow your horse plenty of warm-up and cooldown at the walk. | iStock


Proactive strategies can go a long way toward helping your equine partner stay sound, whether he’s a favorite trail buddy or a top competition horse. So in this article, three equine veterinarians and members of the academic community have weighed in with practical tips for maintaining a comfortable and happy horse.

1. Maintain a Team

While it might seem obvious, our sources can’t stress it enough: Be deliberate about maintaining a consistent relationship with your farrier and veterinary teams. “One of the biggest things for keeping horses sound and healthy is to establish a good working relationship with your veterinarian and farrier for regular maintenance and health care,” says Carolyn Hammer, DVM, PhD, professor of animal sciences at North Dakota State University, in Fargo. Ideally, your farrier and veterinarian should be able to communicate with one another when concerns arise. 

2. One Size Doesn’t Fit All

When it comes to shoeing options, different lameness or hoof conditions require different hoof care strategies. Key to keep in mind, says Tena Ursini, DVM, PhD, CERP, Dipl. ACVSMR, clinical assistant professor of equine sports medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is the applied shoeing setup provides the mechanics the horse needs to maintain soundness.

“I think a lot of discrepancy between farriers and vets is based on veterinarians trying to prescribe an exact shoeing package: If the veterinarian’s recommendation is one that the farrier is familiar with and can be successfully applied to that individual horse, everything is great,” she explains. “If it’s a shoe type that the farrier is either not comfortable with or cannot actually be applied to that particular horse for whatever reason, things go poorly, and the horse never gets sound. At that point the owner is unhappy, the farrier is unhappy, the veterinarian is unhappy, and the horse is definitely unhappy.”

3.  No Two Horses Are the Exact Same

Conformation is also unique to each horse. “The most important thing to realize is that not every horse is built the same; there is no single number for ideal hoof angle,” Ursini says. “It depends on how that horse moves and its conformation. Some horses are more upright, some have more angulation—so they will have a different foot angle in order to maintain an ideal hoof-pastern axis. Many people get fixated on a certain angle and try to fit every horse into the same box.”

In other words, horses are all individuals and must be treated that way.

4. Spinoff Effects

Don’t underestimate the importance of proper hoof balance, says Ursini. “The saying ‘no hoof, no horse’ is not an exaggeration,” she says. “Literally every mechanical aspect of how a horse moves can be altered by the shape and condition of their hooves. It is well proven in both the literature and clinical experience that horses with certain attributes—specifically, negative plantar or palmar angles of P3 (the angle the coffin bone makes with the ground; a negative angle means the back of the coffin bone is lower than the front of the bone, rather than both ends being level)—are associated with lameness and pain originating from the proximal suspensory, hock, stifle, sacroiliac (SI joint), and lumbar region.”

Ursini says in her experience, trying to treat all those sources of pain without addressing foot angles is impossible. “Corrective shoeing to improve the angles oftentimes removes the strain to certain structures, and after a short period of time I don’t even have to address those other issues, as the pain is secondary to the feet

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We at The Horse work to provide you with the latest and most reliable news and information on equine health, care, management, and welfare through our magazine and TheHorse.com. Our explanatory journalism provides an understandable resource on important and sometimes complex health issues. Your subscription will help The Horse continue to offer this vital resource to horse owners of all breeds, disciplines, and experience levels.

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Written by:

Freelance journalist Natalie DeFee Mendik is a multiple American Horse Publications editorial and graphics awards winner specializing in equestrian media. She holds an MA in English from Colorado State University and an International Federation of Journalists’ International press card, and is a member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists. With over three decades of horse experience, Natalie’s main equine interests are dressage and vaulting. Having lived and ridden in England, Switzerland, and various parts of the United States, Natalie currently resides in Colorado with her husband and two girls.

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