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!!
Ebony Park Performance Friesians
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