As equine enthusiasts, most can probably say they have dealt with a horse with some type of injury or lameness. Owning, caring for, or working with horses is difficult. Profound issues can be overlooked if only the surface-level details are being recognized. Healthy and physically strong horses should move easily; however, it is inevitable that horses will likely encounter mobility issues at some point in their life, resulting in various setbacks as far as movement goes. Ongoing physical issues tend to lead to longer-term complications. This is why understanding your horse’s health involves being attentive to all symptoms of lameness and treating them in a timely manner. No one wants their horse to go lame; therefore, following any number of preventative options will help ensure your horse can stay active by avoiding mobility issues but receive any treatment as soon as possible, if needed, to assist with resolving an issue.
So what does it mean for a horse to be lame? Lameness is a broadly defined term commonly referring to a change in a horse’s gait, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). While most think lameness means limping, that is not always the only symptom, if one, that is visible. Some other symptoms would include head bobbing, decreased ability to move, unwillingness to move, or imbalanced standing. It is important to remember that symptoms may be very subtle; therefore, it is pertinent to know your horse’s normal gait to recognize any changes that may be going on. Lameness can not only alter a horse’s life, but it could also result in a life-ending decision depending on the severity and the level of pain that the horse is experiencing.
Several factors might lead to your horse becoming lame. These may originate from congenital tendencies, injuries, or various environmental factors. Some examples would be pain from bruising, tendon or ligament issues, bone or muscle injuries, inflammation in the joint, etc. Lameness can come from various reasons, as it can be originating from any part of the leg. This might be the forelimb, hindlimb, or the hoof. Regardless of where it originates, additional issues can result if left untreated. Knowing if a horse is at a higher risk of lameness due to weather, temperature, or age is also important. These factors warrant keeping an extra close eye on a horse at any given time to be sure any changes are detected immediately.
Contingent on the situation, immediate treatment is sometimes necessary, enforcing the importance of keeping an eye out for any symptoms which may be visible. Some of the symptoms commonly found include reluctance to move, which signifies pain in a limb, a common cause of lameness; inconsistent leg reach when moving, meaning an uneven stride or reach with both front or both hind limbs; asymmetry in the legs or hips, referring to part of the body shifting how the weight is distributed; changed behavior, paying attention to any newly acquired aggression or anxiety that could be stemming from an ongoing issue, and resistance not bearing weight in a particular leg, a telling sign that something is not quite right. While sometimes it is difficult to recognize a lameness just by visual assessment, being attentive to the physical activity levels can be helpful to note. Unwillingness to move is generally how a lame horse communicates that something is wrong, and at that point, it is time to call a veterinarian.
Lameness tends to be a big issue for horse owners; however, there are treatment options that can allow the horse to recover. Depending on the type of lameness being dealt with, various treatment options exist. If the lameness is resulting in chronic or temporary pain, treatment with pain relievers (NSAIDs) will allow the pain to be managed. There is also the option for using joint supplements, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, and other alleviation treatments. When treating inflammation, feeding joint supplements and using steroids and other injections to assist with inflammation and pain reduction is common. When treating joint-specific issues, joint supplements can be fed, in addition to the potential of arthroscopic surgery to repair the joint through small incisions. All in all, the best way to treat, is to simply prevent, and the best way to prevent a lame horse is to ensure adequate nutrition. If providing proper nutrition to a horse is a challenge, seek professional help from equine nutritionists to ensure that a balanced ration is fed daily.
While to some, the thought of keeping a horse in excellent health while preventing lameness sounds intimidating, it truly isn’t. It is simply pertinent to provide proper treatment for the existing issue. Checking in with a veterinarian on a regular basis is a proactive step to be sure your horse is at maximum health and receiving all necessary nutrients. Keep track of all of your medications, lameness exams and supplements in one place with StableSecretary! Remember, providing preventative support, especially for younger horses, will only assist to alleviate any early onset of joint degeneration and other mobility issues.
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