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Subtle signs of lameness in horses

Sometimes lameness in horses isn't easy to see. Here are a few of the less-obvious indications of unsoundness.
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A woman in a navy jacket watching a horse jog out for lameness.

A head-bobbing horse is easy to spot, but many lamenesses are far more subtle.

A full lameness exam can help pinpoint subtle signs of unsoundness in horses. A horse who is head-bobbing unsound is easy to spot, but more subtle signs of equine lameness can elude detection. Failing to notice when a horse is only slightly "off" can lead to a worsening of an injury or delay in treatment that makes a problem more difficult to resolve. Consult your veterinarian if you see any of the following signs

  • A hind leg that doesn't reach as far forward as the other with each stride
  • Overall shorter strides or reluctance to "move out" when asked
  • One hoof that consistently cuts deeper into footing than the opposite foot
  • Resistance to picking up a particular lead
  • Refusing or running out at fences
  • A change in movement or demeanor when you post on a particular diagonal
  • More or less flexion in the joint in one limb
  • A "pecking" movement of the front legs, as if the horse is trying to tiptoe
  • Asymmetrical hips or shoulders
  • A significant change in gait when moving from soft to firm footing and back again
  • Resistance to traveling from on type of footing to another

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