Lameness is a common problem in both pleasure horses and competition horses. Lameness usually occurs due to pain or physical restriction during movement. The severity of lameness varies and in some horses lameness may be very subtle and difficult to appreciate and only manifest as a loss of performance or difficulty or resentment in performing some activities.
At the Liphook Equine Hospital, our team of surgeons are very experienced in investigating lameness in the horse, as well as cases of poor performance and back problems. The hospital admits horses of all shapes and sizes, from Miniature Shetland ponies to Thoroughbred racehorses and top class competition horses.
Lameness investigations usually start with a thorough clinical examination and gait assessment. Clinical examination will usually include observation, palpation and manipulation of the musculoskeletal system. Gait assessment may include evaluation of the horse at walk and trot in hand on both hard and soft surfaces and lunging at trot, and sometimes canter, in both directions on hard and soft surfaces. In many cases, horses will also be observed whilst being ridden as lameness may only be apparent or appear different under saddle. At The Liphook Equine Hospital there is a dedicated assessment area were the vets can observe horses walking and trotting in hand and lunging on both hard and soft Additionally, there is a large ménage, where we can observe horses being ridden either by their usual riders or by our own experienced riders and jumped if necessary.
Whilst in some animals the cause of lameness may be easy to elicit by clinical examination and gait evaluation in other animals more extensive and time consuming investigations are required. This may include diagnostic analgesia (“nerve blocks”) in which local anaesthetic solution is injected around a nerve or directly into a joint or a synovial cavity thereby temporarily desensitising a particular area of the limb. Following injection of local anaesthetic solution the horse’s gait is reassessed to determine whether there has been improvement in lameness or performance. This enables the veterinary surgeon to determine that part of the limb that is painful and contributing to lameness. In most lameness investigations diagnostic imaging is used to help determine the cause of lameness. The type of imaging used will depend on the nature of the lameness but may include nuclear scintigraphy, radiography, magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasonography.
Once the cause of lameness has been established our experienced veterinary surgeons will be able to advice you on appropriate treatment and management strategies, including medication, surgery, farriery and exercise programmes.