Trail Riding First Aid Part 8: Lameness

Veterinarian Barb Crabbe guides you on the trail--as you administer first-aid to your lame horse. Find out what to do when it happens and what you can do to prevent it.
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Veterinarian Barb Crabbe guides you on the trail--as you administer first-aid to your lame horse. Find out what to do when it happens and what you can do to prevent it.

Lameness - What to Watch For:

Lameness. Courtesy Horse & Rider

Sudden, acute lameness; sudden refusal to bear weight on a limb.

Lameness - What's Happening:

If your horse should suddenly become lame, there are a number of possibilities that exist:

  • A rock or other object bruised his sole.
  • A nail punctured his foot.
  • He's strained a tendon, ligament, or other soft-tissue structure.
  • He's fractured a bone.
  • He's suffered a severe wound.

Lameness - What to do:

  • Step 1: Carefully evaluate your horse's lame leg, looking for heat/ swelling, and obvious wounds.
  • Step 2: Check his foot for rocks/ debris; remove any you find.
  • Step 3: If you find a nail, remove it, pulling it straight out--but remember exactly where it was located in your horse's foot; your vet will be better able to evaluate any resulting complications if he knows where the nail puncture occurred. If possible, flush out the nail hole with Betadyne solution, and wrap the foot, using a gauze pad, covered by Vetrap or elastic tape.
  • Step 4: If you find any heat/ swelling, apply a support bandage, using the sheet cotton, brown gauze, Vetrap, and elastic tape from your first-aid kit. If you identify a wound, see Trail Riding First Aid Part 6.
  • Step 5: Administer a dose of phenylbutazone, to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Step 6: If limb instability leads you to suspect a fractured bone (for instance, the leg bends where there is no joint), apply a support wrap, and keep your horse still. Send your buddy to summon help from a vet.
  • Step 7: If your horse refuses to bear weight on his limb, keep him still; send your buddy for help. Continued exercise on a severe injury you could cause serious long-term damage.
  • Step 8: If you can, slowly make your way home, resting every 15 minutes--lead your horse, don't ride. Immediately summon your vet once home.

Lameness - Risk Factors:

Poorly maintained or rocky trails, uneven terrain, holes in the trail, other factors listed in Trail Riding First Aid Part 6.

Lameness - Preventative Measures:

  • Choose well-maintained paths--and stay on them.
  • Don't walk in areas where you can't clearly see the footing.
  • If you'll be riding over difficult terrain, apply support/ protective boots or bandages to your horse's lower legs.
  • Make sure your horse is properly conditioned for the level of trail riding you plan to undertake. If you're unsure, ask your vet.

 Click here for more articles on Trail Riding First Aid.

Barb Crabbe, DVM, is a contributing editor at Horse & Rider. She is an Oregon-based equine practitioner.

This article originally appeared in Horse & Rider.