Which of Your Horse's Legs is Lame?
In most cases, pinpointing lameness in your
horse's legs isn't difficult if you follow these steps.
What you're looking for:
Now, locate the lame leg:
Your horse's head bobs UP when a sore forelimb hits the
ground. His head bobs DOWN when a sore hindlimb hits the
ground. (Tip: A head-bob is easiest to see when your
horse is trotted toward you. As a general rule, the more
pronounced the bob, the more severe the pain.)
- Hip-hike or hip-drop:
The hip on one side raises HIGHER and or/sinks LOWER
than the other side. (Tip: This is easiest to see when
your horse is trotted away from you. Make it more
visible by sticking a piece of white adhesive tape on
each hip to give your eye a reference point.)
The toe of the affected hind limb drags the ground on
the forward swing.
- Shortened stride:
The stride on one leg is shorter than the stride on the
Follow these steps. Call your veterinarian if you observe
any sign of injury or lameness in Steps 1, 2 or 3. If you
still can't ferret out the lameness, call your vet for help.
Step 1. Examine your horse's legs and feet for
external evidence of injury.
Step 2. Watch
your horse trot a straight line. Lameness that's barely
perceptible at the walk can become more evident at the trot.
- Stand him squarely on solid, level
ground, then visually examine each leg and coronary band
for bumps, swellings, wounds, discharges or other such
- Feel each hoof for excess heat, then
check the strength of your horse's digital pulse (using
the thumb and middle fingers of your right hind, feel
behind and on either side of his lower fetlock--above
the sesamoid area--with your palm on the front and
fingers rapped toward the back until you feel a faint
- Pick up, clean and examine each foot
for nails, cracks, bruises or other abnormalities. Note
any resistance, which could indicate pain in another
foot, hence his reluctance to increase the load there.
Repeat the exercise two to three times. If
you still can't identify the lame leg(s), one of three
things could be happening:
- Find a flat, smooth surface with
- Recruit a helper. Give her a crop or
whip, if necessary, to help get your horse trotting
- Have your helper trot the horse on a
straight line away from you, for about 50 feet, loosely
holding the lead so as not to inhibit a head-bob. Then
have the pair trot toward you, then past you, so you can
view the horse from the front and side.
1. Your horse may be too lame, fresh or uncomfortable to
2. The lameness is bilateral or too subtle to show up on a
3. There is no lameness.
Step 3. Longe your horse. Have your helper longe the
horse in both directions, gradually tightening the circle.
Or have your helper trot him in circles in-hand. As a
general rule, the tighter the circle, the more pronounced
the lameness. Still can't see the problem's origin? Call