Lameness in Horses: Symptoms, Discovery and Recovery

Lameness is a very common cause of loss of use in horses. A lame horse is either unwilling or unable to stand or move normally. It can be caused by problems in a horse’s bones, muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, brain, circulation, or metabolism. Hopefully, you are not experiencing any of these issues but if you are keep reading.

The most common causes of lameness are injury, metabolic issues and stabling environment. The difficulty with lameness is that it can be due to a problem from the foot all the way up to the back!

It is important to observe horses every day so that subtle problems are noticed For example, some horses rest their back leg often, and other very seldom. Has this habit changed for your horse? Or maybe your horse prefers to stand on an up hill grade or in a soft manure spot which could indicate a laminitic issue in the hoof. Many lameness issues can be identified by trotting your horse in hand, straight away.


There are many symptoms of lameness that can occur gradually or suddenly. Some signs are obvious and some are not. A few general indications include a less active horse, dragging of the toe, standing unbalanced, holding a foot up, and head bobbing. A lot of horse lameness problems occur in the foot. A horse will most likely be doing something out of the ordinary to indicate that something is wrong.

Sometimes even the most experienced horse owner doesn’t realize that their horse is having problems. Early detection can help your horse have a speedy recovery. Consider getting an annual lameness exam for your horse.

Discovery & Recovery

Recovery and healing may require limited exercise, chiropractic work, changes in feed or support wraps. Some lameness may even require in hand exercising a walk and trot. You never know how long it will take your horse to recover, but after you notice a problem and the veterinarian sees your horse, the discovery and recovery phase begins. Your veterinarian will ask a series of questions to try to understand how or when the problem occurred. The diagnostic process can be difficult, especially if the problem is internal. Is there an infection? Was there an injury? How sever is the actual damage? How long has this been occurring? These are all important questions that you and the veterinarian will try to answer.

There are many challenges an owner will face as they tackle their horse’s lameness issues. If you have a lame horse or have experienced this a time or two, you know it can be difficult to go through. No one wants to see their horse like this! Hang in there. You are not alone.

Do you have any tips or advice for someone with a lame horse? Please share them in the comments below. 

 My Tip:  Give your horses plenty of room to move around. This helps circulation throughout the body and keeps tendons, ligaments and muscles toned. A horse that is kept in a tiny pen and then let loose to run, has a great chance of injury. Also, make sure your horse gets to walk on varied surfaces. Horses kept in deep shavings can develop tender soles and may not get the frog and sole stimulation needed for proper hoof blood flow.

*Images courtesy of Pinterest.