Health & Wellness

Identifying Lameness

By Pearce Sloan, DVM at McKinlay & Peters Equine Hospital, Newman Lake, WA

In the last edition of Horse Previews, I introduced myself to the community as the new surgery-residency trained veterinarian joining McKinlay & Peters Equine Hospital. In my veterinary career, my goal has been to never stop learning, and I have made active attempts to learn from experts in the field in my internship and residency. During this time, I have taught veterinary students in clinical settings for the last 4 years, and I truly enjoy explaining my thought process and decision making with clients and students.

My primary work-related passion is what I like to call performance horse lameness exams. I remember when college
rodeoing, a horse would feel “off” and I wouldn’t really know how to describe to my veterinarian what the issue
was. In general, identifying a lameness can be very challenging to learn and equally as challenging to teach. My
education in veterinary school with lameness exams taught me mostly that I’d been riding and watching lame horses more than sound ones.

Forelimb lamenesses can be more straight forward to start with because of the “head nod” that can be more
identifiable. The saying is “down on the sound” which equates to the head going in a downward direction on the
sound forelimb, and consequently up on the lame limb. This can be made more challenging when both front feet are
sore, and horses will exhibit a short-strided gait in the forelimbs. These bilateral forelimb lameness are made incredibly convincing when the lameness is blocked (perineural anesthesia with lidocaine or carbocaine-which is a whole other talk), and the lameness on the opposite limb becomes extremely obvious.

Hindlimb lamenesses can be particularly challenging to learn because of the variability that horses can show.
I learned two primary ways that horses display a hindlimb lameness: increased “hip hike” or a “scuttle”. For most
performance horse lamenesses, riders will describe a roughness, inability to keep a gait, or slower performance
times/quality, and a lameness may not even be able to be seen at baseline. For these, the flexion tests are particularly useful, and can really highlight the area of lameness.

In general, the “scuttle” is a lameness that is seen in more severe upper hindlimb lameness, and overall fairly uncommon. Much more common is the hip hike, where the affected/ lame limb moves more in an upward motion to shorten the stride on that limb and avoid the full weight bearing to transfer to the opposite limb. This again becomes more difficult when both hindlimbs are affected. Just to make things even a little more complicated, a hindlimb lameness can make the appearance of a forelimb lameness as the horse throws their weight forward, creating a head nod; for instance, a right hindlimb lameness can seem like a right forelimb lameness with the head nod

When evaluating horses in a lameness exam, I actively try to educate clients as to what I’m seeing and to make
decisions as a team considering what is best for the horse and rider. I have always especially enjoyed lameness examinations because they can be challenging, and I know that by solving the source of lameness/pain
I’m providing a better life for the horses that I encounter. I’m so happy to have joined this practice
and be able to share what I’ve learned with this community.

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