People who own horses or have been around them long enough know that they can become lame in a variety of ways, sometimes unexpectedly. However, signs of lameness can often subtle, making diagnosing the problem difficult, particularly if you aren't looking for it. By carefully looking for signs of lameness, you can diagnose a problem and treat it before it gets any worse.
One way of detecting lameness is not very obvious. You can look for nonspecific signs, such as your horse's attitude and appetite. Although looking at these signs will not tell you what is wrong, it will confirm that something is amiss, making you more aware of finding out what the problem is. Take time to carefully observe your horse. Is he more moody, irritable, or agressive than usual? Perhaps he is reluctant to move forward or unwilling to work. Maybe he is standing off to the side rather than with the herd and is refusing to eat much. All these are signs that pain may be bothering your horse and must be investigated further.
Once you have determined that something definitely is wrong, you should carefully observe your horse from head to hoof to tail---don't just take a cursory glance. First, observe his legs during turnout or when he is in his stall. Watch to see if he rests on one leg more than another or if his toes are pointed outwards. Next, run your hand over his body and legs. If he flinches, pins his ears, kicks, or pulls his leg away when he touches an area, you know that area is in pain. Also check for swelling, heat(in the legs), and tension.
Another test for lameness is to watch your horse move in a circle in both directions, first with no tack, then with tack but no rider. Finally, add the rider. Doing this is important because it can tell you if either the tack and/or rider is bothering him. Start with the walk. He should be relaxed, walking smoothly and rythmnically with any sign of pain(pinned ears, hesitation, taking a quick step with one foot to avoid putting weight on it, etc) . Then watch him trot, observing the same things as at the walk.
|Lunge your horse fulling tacked without a rider and observe him for lameness problems.|
Next watch him fully tacked, both with and without a rider. Have him walk and trot in both directions on a circle, then watch him from every angle at both walk and trot. When in front of him, check to see whether each leg is raised as high as the other or if he is stumbling. On either side, watch to see if his hind legs land on the foot print of the front ones. If one leg takes to short a stride, it is probably in pain. Observe him from behind to see if his rump rises and falls evenly and his hind legs land without pain.
Another test is to listen to your horses footfalls when he is on a hard surface. The rhythm of his strides should be even, and no hoofbeat should be lighter than another. If it is, it is probably in pain. The same goes for if he takes one step more quickly than another.
A great way to feel if your horse is in pain is to ride him. Try to feel him underneath you at walk, trot, and canter. At the trot, if you feel his diagonals are uneven, the weaker one must be in pain. The smae goes for uneven canter leads. Also reluctance to turn one way may mean soreness or pain on the inside leg.
Finally, observe your horse's feet. Putting less weight on foot than another, or pointing it, can mean pain. Also lift the hoof and observe it for any signs of pain. Painful hooves are often slightly smaller than other hooves. Also, reluctance to pick it up may either mean pain in the opposite leg or pain that leg.
When doing routine activities with your horse, such as grooming and picking hooves, pay attention to any sign of pain. Treating it early can prevent it from worsening.