Lameness in horses can be a "pain" for horse and owner alike. Not only can it result in poor performance but chronic lameness can result in a cycle of further lameness and pain. Equine practitioners spend a lot of there time assessing for lameness/gait abnormalities and treating with an ever expanding repertoire of therapeutic options.
Preventing, Diagnosing and Treating Equine Lameness
Preventing lameness is always preferable to treating it afterward, but this is not always possible. Ensure your horse has proper training and conditioning for daily tasks, proper farrier work and hoof care, and regular veterinary checkups. Sound nutrition, proper rest and hydration are also critical for avoiding lameness due to health problems.
When prevention does not work, however, it is important to notice the signs of lameness promptly and to engage the help of your veterinarian right away. Your equine veterinarian will first watch your horse as he or she walks from a distance, and from all sides to evaluate any asymmetries showing the horse overcompensating in one area because of injury to another area. Then, the vet examines your horse by touch (“palpation”) to evaluate tissue tenderness, texture, heat, inflammation, etc. in the joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments.
The veterinarian will also bend and flex the legs and check your horse’s hooves carefully. Even sound is important during these evaluations: the vet will actually listen to the sound and rhythm of your horse’s gait for unevenness. Nerve blocks, joint blocks and other diagnostic tests can further isolate the area with the problem. Further evaluation often involves imaging; xrays, ultrasound, and other options to help best guide and characterize the cause of lameness.
After isolating the cause, your equine vet can recommend a course of treatment. Of course, treatments vary widely, ranging from rest, anti-inflammatory medications and a period of rest and rehab tailored to the specific diagnosis and temperament of the horse. As equine veterinary science continues to advance, newer treatments are coming out all the time to help even horses with severe lameness. Everything from stem-cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma to laser therapy and alternative treatments such as acupuncture and equine chiropractic care are possible options.
The most important thing you can do is work to prevent the situations that can lead to lameness—and if lameness strikes, act fast with the help of an experienced equine veterinarian