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Home:Equine Diseases:Lameness

Equine Diseases


Equine Lameness is a generic phrase to describe any leg problem that a horse may have. It is an abnormality of gait caused by pain and / or restriction of movement. There are many degrees of equine lameness but the more serious cases cause more problems on a yearly basis than colic.  

If you detect equine lameness, contact your Vet quickly. A prompt examination can save you time, money, and frustration by diagnosing and treating the equine lameness immediately, thus preventing further damage. A small problem will therefore be prevented from becoming a big one.

The foot is the most common site of equine lameness but problems in areas such as the joints, bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, withers, shoulders, loin, hips, legs, neck and back can manifest themselves as equine lameness. Therefore, identifying the source of equine lameness is of paramount importance in treating it.


  • Dragging or pointing the toe
  • Resting one leg more than another
  • Dropping the fetlock
  • Head bobbing easiest to see when your horse is trotted toward you
  • Hip Hiking or Hip Dropping easiest to see when horse is trotting away from you
  • Reluctance to flex a limb normally
  • Shortened stride length
  • Abnormal foot placement-e.g. landing toe-first to spare the heel
  • Heat
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Changes in tone or texture of a tissue
  • Redness
  • Loss of function


Equine Lameness can be caused by a variety of problems which prevent your horse from walking with a normal stride and free from pain. Some causes are as follows:

  • Degenerative disease such as arthritis
  • Injuries
  • Infections such as foot abscesses, infected wounds, celulitis, joint infections
  • Developmental problems such as osteochondrosis or OCD
  • Metabolic problems such as laminitis
  • Mechanical problems e.g. wear and tear such as overload on the horse
  • Skin problems
  • Problems with the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, nerves)
  • Tack Problems (usually the saddle)
  • Rider Problems (bridle lameness or rein lameness)


If you have been able, via your own observations, to establish the cause of equine lameness, some of the following treatments may be of help.

Cold Hosing Running cold water over the affected limb for 20 minutes several times a day. This helps equine lameness by reducing swelling and cleaning any wounds. Heels should be greased before treatment.

Hot Tubing Used on injuries of the lower limb and foot. Fill a bucket half full with a mixture of hot water and salt. Place the foot, again with the heel greased, into the bucket of salt and water and leave for 20 minutes. Top up with hot water when required.

Hot Fomentation This is like hot tubing above but on areas of the leg that cannot be placed in a bucket. Heat two cloths in a bucket of hot water and salt, apply one to the area until the heat is lost out of the cloth and then use the second one while the other heats up again. Continue this for about 20 minutes.

Applying Poultices A poultice is a mixture which can be readymade or you can make it yourself from bran mash and salt. Poulticing reduces inflammation and bruising, cleans wounds and helps to draw out any infections. Place the poultice in the hoof and cover it by plastic bag or special boot securing it at the fetlock.

Cold Hosing, Hot Tubing and Fomentation, used alternately two or three times a day with poultices in between show great results with equine lameness and give your horse great relief from pain.

If the equine lameness problem is more serious, contact your vet quickly. Your vet will examine your horse's legs and feet to diagnose the cause of the equine lameness.

He/She may be able to diagnose the cause of the equine lameness simply by observation, palpation and manipulation, gait evaluation or joint flexion tests.

If these measures do not reveal the cause of equine lameness, and depending on the vet's suspicions, further diagnostic tests such as diagnostic anesthesia, radiography, ultrasonography, thermography, regional nerve blocks, joint blocks, diagnostic imaging, computerised tomograph - a CT Scan, or a magnetic resonance image MRI scan, may be necessary.

Depending on final diagnosis, treatment for the equine lameness will vary from Anti-Inflammatory Therapy, Antibiotics, Joint Medications, Joint Lavage, Casts and Surgery such as Arthroscopic Surgery or Surgical Repair of Fractures.

Physical therapies may also be prescribed such as Rest, Bandaging and Splinting.

Alternative treatments as listed below have been found to be extremely therapeutic in helping with treatment of equine lameness.

Heat Therapy, Hydrotherapy, Massage, Passive Motion Exercises, Chiropractic Manipulation, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Therapeutic Ultrasound, Laser Therapy, Magnetic Field Therapy and Electrical Tissue Stimulation.

Routine Foot Care and Disease control such as management of infected wounds and hygiene all play an important part in the control of equine lameness.