Some Endurance Horses Lacking in Lameness Care, Study Shows
Lameness is the No. 1 health issue affecting endurance horses across England and Wales. But recent study results suggest that nearly half of those lameness cases are never treated by a veterinarian.

“If an endurance horse goes lame, owners should get the lameness investigated as soon as possible to allow timely diagnosis, targeted treatment, and hopefully earlier return to work,” said Annamaria Nagy, DrMedVet, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, FRCVS, of the Animal Health Trust (AHT) Centre for Equine Studies, in Newmarket, U.K.

Nagy worked with fellow researchers Sue Dyson, MA, Vet MB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, head of clinical orthopedics at the AHT, and Jane K. Murray, BScEcon, MSc, PhD, of the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Science. They reviewed questionnaires completed by endurance riders about veterinary problems. Results showed that 80% of the 190 horses ridden by the respondents had a lameness issue affect their endurance career. More than half had been lame within the last year.

Respondents described the most recent lameness episode in detail for 147 horses, Nagy said. Veterinarians identified 76% of those lameness cases, and 56% of the cases resulted in elimination from a race. Of the cases initially identified by a veterinarian, only 52% were further investigated and/or treated by a veterinarian, the team found. When the lameness hadn’t been identified by a veterinarian, it was the farrier, trainer, chiropractor, or rider who noticed it. In some cases the horse was lame on two limbs and in one case on all four limbs.

Among horses that did receive veterinary care, only 22% were examined right away. Most owners chose to rest the horse before seeking veterinary care: 44% waited a week; 7% waited two weeks; and nearly 28% waited longer than that.

Veterinarians used diagnostic analgesia (nerve and joint blocks) in only 22% of the lameness exams, Nagy added.

“A relatively small proportion of affected horses get investigated (thoroughly or at all) by a veterinarian,” she said. “The fact that there’s lameness itself isn’t that surprising in this population, as it’s common in all disciplines. But the magnitude of the problem—80% of riders reporting lameness—and the fact that they weren’t getting investigated were surprising.”

Tendon and ligament injuries were the most common diagnoses (21%) followed closely by foot pain (20%). Joint pain made up 13% of cases. Less common were sacroiliac pain and stress fractures.

Other veterinary problems affecting the endurance horses in the study were thoracolumbar region pain, nonspecific cough, skin disease, and colic, said Nagy.

While this online questionnaire was meant for riders in England and Wales, further research on a global level is in the planning phases.

Rider education about recognizing lameness and the importance of treating such issues early could lead to better care and welfare for these horses, Nagy said.

The study, “Veterinary problems of endurance horses in England and Wales,” was published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine.