Equine lameness specialist and equine veterinarian Dr. Bob McCrady of Raymond, Missouri, has seen thousands of lameness cases. He offers this advice to horse owners to help keep their horses on their feet and in competition:
Check your horse daily
Dr. McCrady suggests that horse owners keep a close eye on their horse, so they can catch changes as soon as they happen. Use the people around you, says Dr. McCrady, to help recognize any differences in the horse's movement. Ask your farrier, trainer and anyone else that has regular contact with the horse to let you know of any missteps in gait or performance. These changes could be an early warning.
?Every time you go out there, run your hands over the horse and run your eyes over the horse. If something doesn't look right or is different, it should be called to somebody?s attention. It may be telling you something is about to go wrong.
Talk to your farrier
Good farriery is very important. Dr. McCrady says farriers sometimes don't know they are making a mistake because the owner doesn't tell them. Talk with your farrier and make sure they know what disciplines your horse will be in and what will be required of the horse.
?Farriers will oftentimes, unless the trainer or owner complain that something?s not right, they are going to do it just like they did before,? Dr. McCrady says. ?If nobody?s complaining, then they must have done it right. So if your trainer says, he's not moving as well as he used to, then have it assessed. These farriers are very good at what they do, but they aren?t going to change a hoof dramatically if the owner or trainer didn't request it.?
Having a farrier that will listen to you and help you make decisions that are best for the horse is probably one of the most important things you can do for your horse, says Dr. McCrady.
?A lot of injuries or lamenesses are related to poor or inadequate farriership,? Dr. McCrady says. ?If you have recurring problems, it's very nice to look at radiographs with the farrier standing there. Then vet and farrier can idealize together how best to help this horse to be most comfortable.?
Also getting a regular soundness exam, where the veterinarian checks your horse from head to toe, will help owners stay on top of lameness. It's better to catch a problem early and fix it rather than have your horse suffer irreparable damage to cartilage or bone tissue.
?It's like a pre-purchase exam, in the sense that I am going to look at everything and catch problems that can be addressed now before they get worse. Pay the professionals the money to do this, and it's money well spent.?
Dr. McCrady says horses, like human athletes, will have wear and tear from the daily grind. Horses on polo fields, reining arenas and rodeo stadiums, for example, are required to do a lot. Regular checkups allow the horse owner and vet to be proactive in keeping these horses healthy and strong, rather than just treating the symptoms.
Get a diagnosis before you treat
Before you start treatments, Dr. McCrady recommends getting a diagnosis first.
?We see a lot of horses that get treatments, and they don't get better, and the horse owner puts off bringing him to the vet,? Dr. McCrady says. ?They may or may not be treating symptoms, but if there is a pathological problem, it needs to be addressed.?
He says that some injuries, if not accurately diagnosed and treated, could worsen and turn into more severe problems, like degenerative joint disease. DJD is a process that can deteriorate the joint and become a lifelong problem.
?First and foremost, if they have a horse that is injured or lame, have someone evaluate the horse who knows what they?re looking at and come to a conclusion. Then they can determine if the horse needs acute joint therapy or rest and anti-inflammatory.?
Due to the nature of DJD, Dr. McCrady wants to see the horse as soon as he can to prevent it from developing further. Once a horse has arthritis, he will have it for the rest of his life. If he can get to it early, Dr. McCrady says, he might be able to slow the process and, with treatment, he can get the horse back to being sound.
?Unfortunately, we see horses when they?ve been sore for a long time,? Dr. McCrady says. ?Many of these horses have DJD, and then we try to manage arthritis instead of trying to stop it in the early stages.?