Managing Lameness in Horses – Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Wild Horses - Under threat across the United States

Lameness is an issue that plagues many horse operations. Understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment options can help you better manage your horse’s health.

The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis from a veterinarian. A thorough history and physical exam will help in this process.


Lameness is a complex condition that various factors can cause. This can include genetics, aging, hormonal changes, and even traumatic injuries.

The best way to avoid lameness in horses is to provide them with the proper nutrition, exercise, and veterinary care they need. Vaccines, fly repellents, and hoof supplements are also available that can prevent and treat lameness problems.

In addition, a thorough physical exam and nerve testing should be performed when diagnosing lameness. This multi-step methodical exam enables the veterinarian to pinpoint the source of pain, evaluate the limb’s mechanics, and determine which treatment will work best.

Depending on the diagnosis, treatments can range from medication to surgery. The goal is to reduce pain and keep your horse comfortable while they recover from their condition. This means avoiding activities that can worsen the situation and slow recovery.


Lameness is a general term used to describe any changes in an animal’s normal stance or gait. This can result from pain, mechanical abnormalities (such as joint scarring and thickening), or an underlying condition that affects the musculoskeletal system.

Signs of lameness vary depending on the cause and severity but generally include dragging of the hoof, a change in foot placement or stride, a head nod, and a pelvic rise. Horses with front limb lameness may also lift their heads higher when stepping on the lame leg and drop them when putting weight on the sound limb.


When a horse is lame, owners often want to know what is causing the problem. A veterinarian will diagnose the condition and develop treatment plans to get your horse back in shape.

To start the diagnosis, a thorough history is taken of the horse and its recent lameness issue. This includes information about your horse’s age, breed, prior use, and riding ability, all of which can help to narrow the list of potential causes.

The horse is examined standing up and in various positions and evaluated for any swellings, heat, or pain. The limbs are also palpated for joint effusion, abnormal tissue tension, and muscle loss.

A detailed physical examination of the legs and feet is conducted, including compression of the walls and soles with hoof testers. The horse’s reaction to these tests is also noted. It is important to remember that a high degree of individual variation in the response to these tests will exist between horses.


A variety of different conditions can cause lameness in horses. Treatments based on the underlying cause will help to improve the horse’s comfort and reduce the pain associated with lameness.

Treatments for lameness include rest, medications, joint support, and rehabilitation. Some horses need more specialized treatment to return to full athletic function, and some may benefit from alternative treatments like acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic.

During a lameness evaluation, the veterinarian will observe the horse in motion. Walking and trotting are generally the most accurate gaits to evaluate lameness because they are symmetrical. The horse will also be flexed and lunged in circles to help localize the area of lameness.

Diagnosis of a lameness problem begins with a thorough medical history and physical examination. The veterinarian will ask about the horse’s breed and type, age and training regimen, and recent management changes.

Previous articleExplaining the Manzella Effect and Healthcare Entrepreneurship: Dr John Manzella 101
Next articleApril 26, 2023 – Western and Northern Ontario Weather Outlook