Most lameness problems have been simmering at a low level for a while before they become apparent. And, chances are, you may have detected the problem before it got out of control. Early detection means less down time and a better prognosis.
There are many hints and clues that can alert you to a problem before it becomes serious. While accidental injuries can happen, and work and age do take their toll on a horse’s legs, you can minimize the chances of a horse having major lameness problems by locating any conformational weaknesses and being alert to the early warning signs that something is wrong.
• Work: Obviously, a horse that works hard — either at speed, for prolonged periods, jumping or doing movements that flex the joints to the limits — is at higher risk for injuring themselves.
• Fatigue: Most people overlook fatigue. When the horse gets tired he’s less mentally alert and less careful about where he puts his feet, reflexes become slower and muscles weaken. Tired muscles don’t stabilize joints well. These factors combine to produce the stumbling, toe catching and “bad steps” that can cause injuries.
• Poor Conditioning: Conditioning involves more than just the heart and lungs. Muscles strengthen, reflexes sharpen; bones, joints, tendons and ligaments also remodel in response to work loads. Asking the horse to perform at an intensity or complexity beyond his level of conditioning is asking for trouble.
You can turn your grooming time into an inspection time. It only takes a few minutes to add this to your routine, and all it takes is a little attention to details:
• Note if the horse flinches, tail swishes, pins ears or kicks when you touch or brush the back.
• Pay attention to muscling from side to side, looking for asymmetry.
• Always run your hands over every inch of the legs from the shoulder/elbow and stifle down, checking for heat, swelling, flinching or moving away from your hand.
• Always check all four feet for temperature.
• Ask your vet to show you the correct way to hold the leg up and palpate in the area of the check ligament and along the tendons and suspensory to check for pain to pressure, and check them every time you pick feet.
Common Conformation Faults, Consequences
• Hoof Imbalance. When viewed from the side, a line drawn down the middle of the pastern should contact the ground in the middle of the hoof’s ground surface. From the front, a line through the middle of the pastern should contact the ground at the center of the toe.
When watching the horse move from in front and behind, the foot should land perfectly flat.
Consequences: Although this fault is manmade, whether through neglect or poor trimming, it can cause joint, tendon or ligament problems. When the foot isn’t positioned properly under the body, and/or when it does not land evenly, the forces traveling through the leg are unevenly distributed and normal shock-absorbing mechanisms can’t work properly.
• Toeing In/Toeing Out. When viewed from the front, the axis of the pastern and foot should line up with the cannon bone. The toe “points” either to the inside or outside rather than straight ahead.
Consequences: Both cause the horse to travel improperly — either wing in or paddle out — rather than travel in a straight line, but this isn’t necessarily going to cause lameness problems as long as the horse is trimmed to follow the natural axis of his anatomy.
Where these horses get into trouble is with ankle or knee problems if “corrective” trimming and shoeing is done in an attempt to make the horse travel straight rather than the way he is built, especially if he’s an older horse.
• Offset Cannon Bone. If a line is drawn through the center of the upper leg and knee, the cannon bone is not situated along the same line, but rather more to the outside.
Consequences: These horses are predisposed to problems with the inside splint and knee joint on the inside. The medial (inside) side of the fetlock joint and medial sesamoid also may also be overloaded.
• Long Pasterns. Long pasterns.
Consequences: Tendon, suspensory or sesamoid injuries, osselets, underrun heels.
• Short Pasterns. Short, upright pasterns.
Consequences: Navicular, ringbone, sidebone. Coffin, pastern or fetlock joint arthritis.
• Sickle Hocks. Viewed from the side, the cannon bone slopes forward rather than being perpendicular to the ground.
Consequences: Curbs, hock arthritis, underrun heels.
• Post Legged. Viewed from the side, the hind leg appears straight, with little angle to the hock and not much slope between the horse’s stifle and hock.
Consequences: Stifle instability, stifle and hock inflammation.
Also With This Article
”Early Warning Signs Of Possible Oncoming Lameness”