Preventing Horse Lameness

Checkout your horse on a daily basis to be proactive with his health.
Checkout your horse on a daily basis to be proactive with his health.

As a horse owner, preventing lameness in your horse is well worth the effort and will pay off handsomely for both you and your horse. Beginning with your daily once over, here are 5 major components to consider in keeping your horse healthy, athletically fit, and functioning on all four legs and hooves:

Check your horse daily for any signs of lameness or hoof problems

Doing your daily once-over as you check for lumps, bumps, swellings or hot spots, especially around the backs of pasterns, lower legs, and tendon areas will help you catch any sign of lameness before it has a chance to progress.

Picking your horse's hooves to remove any rocks or debris and checking for increased digital pulse and/or increased heat in the foot area are important for catching hoof diseases such as laminitis and injuries in their earliest stages.

Schedule regular appointments with your farrier and veterinarian

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Preventing lameness - a team sport

You, your veterinarian, and your farrier all play a role in keeping the horse sound and healthy.
© April Raine | EquiDesis

Your farrier and your veterinarian are two of your horse's best friends when it comes to actively preventing lameness. Appointments with your farrier on a regular basis will enable you to make sure your horse's hooves are properly trimmed and balanced, as well as properly shod to meet the work demands of the horse.

Your farrier will also note any signs of developing problems with the feet and lower limbs of the horse and make suggestions for correcting or treating such conditions.

If you elect to trim and care for your horse's hooves, make sure that you trim and rasp the bearing surfaces evenly so that the foot is level. Make sure you don't over trim the heels, thereby putting a strain on the sesamoids that might produce lameness. Remember that the best job of trimming a hoof preserves the angle that is normal for the horse, not one that corresponds to a picture-perfect ideal in a magazine or other source.

If corrective trimming and shoeing are necessary for your horse, the best results will come from cooperative efforts of your farrier and veterinarian.

Most orthopedic diseases of horses such as laminitis, sand cracks, flat feet, sole bruises, tendonitis, sidebones and other diseases and conditions are best treated by the services of a veterinarian who can diagnose the extent of the problem and prescribe medications or other therapies, plus the services of a farrier to make sure the feet of the horse are kept in the best possible condition.

Working with your veterinarian, make sure that your horse is up-to-date with all vaccines including tetanus toxoid and antitoxin vaccines, as well as those that prevent infectious diseases and other ailments that can lead to lameness.

Feed your horse a nutritious diet

An appropriately balanced diet is essential for normal growth and healthy appearance of your horse's hooves and musculoskeletal system no matter what age the horse is. A balanced ration will provide adequate amount of calcium, biotin and the essential amino acid DL-methionine.

A horse weighing 1,000 pounds needs about 15 to 18 pounds of good-quality hay per day spread out in several feedings. It is recommended that a grain or concentrate mix should never make up more than half of the total amount of feed consumed each day unless the horse has increased requirements for energy such as a performance horse, and young horses less than a year old.

When changing your horse's diet, do it gradually over a period of several weeks to allow the horse's system to adapt to the new feed.

As always, your horse should have access to clean, palatable water at all times.

High protein, heavily concentrated diets that increase the horse's weight without appropriate amounts of exercise should be avoided. Mineral imbalances from over supplementation also create bone problems and can lead to damage and disease in the Musculoskeletal system.

Protect your horse from gaining access to stored grains and feeds that could lead to acute laminitis/founder if over ingested. If you know or suspect that your horse has consumed an unknown quantity of grain, consult your veterinarian immediately since once signs occur, it can be difficult or impossible to prevent foot damage.

Although some people recommend hoof and joint supplements as protections against lameness, most research shows little or no benefit from these kinds of supplements when the horse is being fed an appropriately balanced diet that take into account, age, workload, physical condition and other individual factors. If in doubt about additional supplements, discuss the topic with your veterinarian and farrier.

Maintain safe and hygienic conditions in barns, stalls, paddocks, pastures, trails, and arenas

Make sure that the areas where your horse lives and works are free of holes that a horse might step into, pieces of wire, nails, broken fence boards, pieces of sharp metal, machines, and other objects that your horse might run into or that might impale or injure your horse.

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A clean, well-shod horse

Barefoot or shod, your horse will suffer fewer lamenesses if provided access to clean and dry areas in their living environment.

Do not let your horse stand in muck, dirty and/or wet bedding, stagnant water, mud, or other elements that are destructive to hoof, limb and general health. Change bedding frequently, muck out stalls on a daily basis and provide good drainage in pastures and paddocks and other places where water and mud contribute to unhealthy conditions not only for a horse's hooves, but also provide a breeding place for insects such as mosquitoes.

Avoid wet-to-dry-to wet episodes and keep trails and arenas as dry and free from obstacles such as large tree branches, rocks and other debris.

Use secure latches on all stable and barn doors, as well as gates and other outlets that might allow a horse to escape and endanger itself by getting onto a road or into other unsafe places.

Practice good horsemanship

A key part of good horsemanship is making sure that your horse has a certain level of physical comfort at all times. Using fly repellents and barn misters to keep disease-carrying flies and other insects off your horses is important in preventing conditions that could lead to lameness.

Having a scheduled deworming program is effective in controlling internal parasites that can sap your horse's strength and lead to general debility thereby making your horse more susceptible to diseases and accidents that affect limb and hoof integrity.

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The sport horse and rider

Horses used in athletic endeavors should be warmed-up, worked, and cooled down appropriately to avoid joint and leg damage.

When riding and exercising your horse, always use good judgment. Never push a horse beyond its limits when it comes to strenuous exercise. Condition your horse gradually, and if any signs of lameness occur, rest your horse appropriately and take into consideration the horse's over-all health and stamina

Take time for adequate warm-up and cool-down periods each time you exercise your horse, and be consistent with your exercise program. Don't ride the horse strenuously one day a week and then have it stand idle the other six days.

Make sure your tack fits and is used properly. Groom your horse on a regular basis to make sure that no burrs or foreign objects create sores or painful conditions. When you climb into the saddle, stay light and balanced and don't pull all your weight against the saddle horn. Many small things can put strain on your horse's system leading to soreness or distress that may affect the horse's movement and eventually lead to lameness.

Consider this

Preventing lameness should be part of your daily action plan. By being proactive and making sure that your horse stays healthy and well conditioned, while avoiding obvious threats to its limbs and feet will help ensure a pleasant, vital, and active life for both you and your horse.

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.