Identifying, Managing Equine Lameness

According to a recent study, lameness in horses can be extremely difficult to identify, with gait asymmetries in nearly 75% of horses deemed sound by their owners.

In that study, “gait asymmetry” referred to any change in the symmetrical movement of the horse detectable in the head and pelvis. Any alteration in limb-loading due to lameness can alter head and pelvic position.

Using body-mounted sensors, the research team measured differences between maximum and minimum head and pelvic movements when horses were trotted in a straight line or while longeing. More specifically, vertical displacement between left and right forelimb and hindlimb stances were calculated during straight-line trot and on the longe. Those differences in head/pelvis movements were compared to previously reported symmetry thresholds.

The key finding of the study involving 222 “sound” Warmblood riding horses involved in regular training showed that the bulk of included horses had a similar magnitude of asymmetric motion as horses examined and treated for lameness.

Owners shouldn’t feel poorly for not recognizing lameness in their horses, as several previously published studies found poor agreement in lameness grades even among seasoned veterinarians. Nonetheless, accurate identification of lameness remains an essential technique to better treat lameness caused by pain, which poses important welfare issues.

“Due to the high occurrence of lameness going undetected in performance horses, owners are encouraged to embrace oral joint health supplements prior to the detection of any lameness. Studies show that certain joint supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate help protect the health and longevity of athletic horses. Hylauronic acid, found in Synovate HA, and DHA in EO-3, also aid in maintaining joint health,” advised Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research(KER).

Courtesy of Kentucky Equine Research