Equine lameness affects all types horses – whether they are ridden for pleasure, racing, or sport. Lameness, a health condition that affects a horse’s gait, is the most costly health problem in the equine industry in regards to the price of medical treatment and for time lost to rest.
Dr. Ashlee Watts, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained what equine lameness is and how it happens. “Lameness is limping in the horse,” she said. “Sometimes the limping can be so subtle that it is difficult or impossible to see and sometimes it is very obvious. Lameness usually happens because of a problem with the musculoskeletal system in a limb, such as arthritis in a joint; however, it can also occur because of neck or back pain.”
Orthopedic injuries, or injuries that directly affect the musculoskeletal system, are the most common cause of equine lameness and include any damage to the hoof, bones, joints, or soft tissue.
According to Watts, signs of lameness can vary anywhere from limping to a mild reduction in normal athletic ability. Common signs of more severe lameness include head bobbing while walking or trotting. Head bobbing is usually a tell-tale sign of front limb lameness, while hind limb lameness is usually identified by a hip hike or drop.