With the Chinese New Year beginning on Jan. 31, it is time we recognize the New Year’s Chinese Zodiac: the horse, symbolizing character traits such as intelligence, energy, and strength. While the Chinese Zodiac horse might be strong and full of energy, what happens when yours adopts uncharacteristic behaviors of limited mobility and weakness? Though equine lameness is a problem seen in many horses during their lifetime, there are ways of preventing and treating it to help your horse be as healthy as the Chinese Zodiac horse this year.

Equine lameness, or limping, has various different causes. “Some of the common causes are due to a traumatic event, a performance induced injury—such as a strained tendon or ligament or pulled muscle—or a wear and tear type injuries causing arthritis or bone spurs in joints termed osteoarthritis,” said Robin Dabareiner, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “There are also some causes of lameness that young horses are born with termed, ‘developmental bone disease,’ where the cartilage and bones do not form correctly. “ Once recognized, it is important to have a lameness evaluated immediately by a veterinarian.

Noticing that your horse is limping or moving irregularly is an obvious way to detect lameness. A horse used for barrel racing, for instance, will, all of a sudden, quit wanting to run the barrel correctly. The next step would be for the owner to seek help from a veterinarian, who will then observe his movement and perform nerve blocks to determine which area of the leg is hurting. “After localizing the source of pain, diagnostic imaging is the next step,” said Dabareiner. “Using radiographs (X rays), ultrasound, or MRI, we can look at images of the area to see what is causing the pain.”