Tag Archives: lameness

Detecting Lameness in Friesian Horses


As owners and riders of horses, we all dread to think that our horse may become lame. Having a horse that is lame not only means that our horse is in pain, potentially large vet bills and time spent treating the problem, but also lost time we could be having fun with our horses – whether it be riding, training or just enjoying them in the paddock.

I know sometimes when I have been riding or watching one of my friesians, he or she hasn’t felt quite right, and sometimes it is difficult to know which leg they may be lame on if you don’t know what to look for! So, if you think your horse is lame, what do you need to do? Do you panic and call the vet, the farrier, or just someone to help?

For starters, as long as your horse doesn’t appear to be on three legs (if he is, then of course call the vet!), it is both a good idea to lunge him each way to see if he is favoring a particular leg, as well as getting someone else to trot him away from and towards you if possible. Make sure you are on a level, even surface, and that you look at your horse carefully at both the walk and the trot. It is important to make sure your horse is on a loose lead, as being on a tight lead prevents the horse from moving normally, and you may not see what is really going on.

This can be a little difficult in friesians, especially if you are used to seeing the way other breeds move – friesians have a totally different head carriage and leg movement to most other breeds. However, the general assessment for detecting lameness is the same for all breeds of horses – whether you have a giant shire horse, or a tiny miniature!

For forelegs, generally you will be able to tell which leg your horse is lame on by what is generally known as the ‘head-bob’!! As he puts down the leg that is sore, his head will bob up – like he is trying to get away from the pain on that leg! He also may not put that leg down for as long on the ground, or extend the leg as far forward as the other, sound leg, so you will be able to hear the uneven footfall of his stride. For the friesians, who have very high head carriage, the head-bob may not be as obvious, but should still be detectable. Friesians also have very high leg flexion or lift, and if they are lame this may not be carried as high – it depends on where in the leg they are lame.

For hind legs, it is a little trickier to determine if he is lame and on which side. This is why I like to have someone trot him up and back for me as it makes it a bit easier to see. If your horse is lame on a hind leg, he may display a ‘hip-hike’ motion in his back end. When you watch from behind, one hip will hike or dip more than the other, and when watching from the side, the sore leg may not be brought forward or track-up as far as the other one – again the horse will have an uneven footfall too. Again, with friesians the hip-hike may be a little more difficult to detect, as they were originally carriage horses and tend to have very well-covered rumps – however, you should still be able to detect a dip in one side if the horse is lame.

For all legs, the most common site of lameness is below the knee, with the hoof being the most common culprit. It is important to feel for swelling or heat all the way up the leg – this will help you to determine where in the leg the horse is sore. You can also determine if your horse is in pain as he will flinch away from pressure on the sore spot. In the hoof, look for cracks or bulges, and odour is also important. Check the sole for foreign objects and pain too. If you are at all concerned after examining your horse, always call the vet!!

Natasha Althoff
Ebony Park Performance Friesians
where dreams are made reality

Beating muscle injuries for horses: [25 common muscular problems, their cause, correction, prevention]
Concise Guide To Tendon and Ligament Injuries in the Horse (Howell Equestrian Library)
The Injured Horse: Hands-On Methods for Managing and Treating Injuries
First Aid for Horses
The Best Way to Wrap Hoof Injuries / EVA: A Silent Health Threat / 6-Point Crisis Action Plan / Da Vinci's Horse for the Ages / Anti-Snorting Strips May Help Horses Win By a Nose (Equus, Issue 267, January 2000)

Lameness in Sport Horses

lamenessinsporthorsesLameness can present itself in a number of different ways and for different reasons;

– There is more that one area of pain
– The horses performance drops
– The horse shows behavioral changes

Sometimes assessment of the problem can be challenging if there is no clear reason for the change / drop in performance and associated lameness. Knowing the history of the horse can greatly assist in the diagnosis of the problem. The horses training schedule, length of time taken to reach levels of fitness and types of exercises will help to determine what types of strains and stresses muscles etc, have been put under.

When assessing the horse the main aims are to determine whether the problem relates to;



–Young horses often show signs of weaknesses possibly relating to being tired. Training programs for youngsters should be relative to growth rate.

Neurological defects

Clinical Problems

— Poor shoeing can lead to bilateral foot pain, fetlock pain, hock pain, carpal pain, thoracic lumbar pain, sacroilliac pain, tying up.

— Good shoeing can assist horses with some minor problems stated above, when they perform.

Rider problems

— A poorly skilled rider can hinder horses when e.g. jumping – poor eye coming into a jump can cause a greater strain on horses’ muscles / ligaments / joints. This can cause tying up due to weaknesses from this.

Horse problems – sometimes the horse is just not skilled enough, suitable or has the right temperament for the discipline it is being ridden in.

Show Jumping and Dressage.

Subtle lameness may only slightly impede the horse’s performance and as many injuries tend to be repetitive, accumulating over time. Many trainers prefer to wait until the end of the season to investigate fully into the cause and future treatments. As the season ends and workloads reduce the demands on horses become less, the lameness seen at the height of competition season may be seen less, affecting the horse less.

Conformation has a clear impact on injury. Foot balance is essential for this discipline and despite a good farrier being able to shoe to accommodate for problems that may be evident. If a horse has an upright foot concussion related problems can occur more frequently.

When training Show Jumpers engagement and collection is required however this can accelerate problems in the thoracic lumbar region as it puts a lot more stress and strain on the area. Forelimbs will be constantly put under a lot of impact pressures, a good rider that stays stable and with a good center of balance will prevent the horse from having to cope with uneven weights as they regain position after a jump.

The experience and strength of the horse will, if not suitable for the job, hinder the horse, causing more stresses and strains as it jumps incorrectly due to tiredness and fatigue. The training surface needs to be considered carefully to help rather that slow down the training of the horse. Too hard and concussions can occur, too deep and suspensory injuries can occur. Joint, bone, foot bruising, inflammation of these areas and hoof wall problems are all common when horses are ridden on unsuitable surfaces.

When training Dressage horses training schedules are often dependent on the horse’s age. The dressage horse will spend a lot of time in the arena performing a lot of gymnastic exercises. Injuries and lameness are often tissue specific rather than concussive. The dressage horse needs to spend a lot of time working towards strengthening in order to not fatigue when performing difficult weight bearing movements. Desmitis in the hind limbs can occur due to the transfer of weight between front and hind limbs if the horse has not built up enough strength. Acute injuries are not often seen, instead, due to the repetitive nature of the training, it is these types of lamenesses that can occur. As the horse spends so long working in the arena, the surface is so important. Consistency and levelness across the entire surface must be maintained. It is worth considering that constant work on a soft surface as found in arena will not stimulate remodeling within the horses bones, important for strength. Training should incorporate work on hard ground occasionally to achieve this. Caution should be taken though not to shock the horse.

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Tammy is a avid equine rider who loves to promote the best ways to be looking after horses. Tammy works part time for anythingequine.co.uk who specialise in Horse Boots as well as equestrian rugs and Equetech equine in the UK.