Lameness: Getting to the Bottom of It

Pinpointing lameness in horses is crucial before proper treatment can be prescribed. There are several approaches to lameness examinations and diagnostic methods, which will be partly determined by the age of the horse and what it does for living.
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"Absent a diagnosis, medicine is poison, surgery is trauma, and alternative therapy is witchcraft."–Dr. Kent Allen

Your horse is favoring his left front leg, but you’re not sure if the problem is in his foot or higher up the limb. Or, he may be just a little "off" in his performance and won’t stay in the proper lead at a canter. Pinpointing lameness is crucial before proper treatment can be prescribed.

Stuart Shoemaker, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, of Idaho Equine Hospital, in Nampa, says there are several approaches to lameness examinations and diagnostic methods. "What we do will be partly determined by the age of the horse and what it does for living," he explains. "For example, very young horses (especially Western performance horses that are only 2 or 3 years old) will have a different group of lamenesses, associated with the type of exercise they are doing, compared with older horses that have different reasons for lameness."

As the body ages, the tissues become less elastic. "Though the traditional lameness examination involved X rays, and X rays were the gold standard, in reality the majority of lamenesses we see in upper-end athletes are soft tissue injuries–some of which cannot be identified with radiographs," he adds

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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