Here's how to check out a slight lameness 

problem before calling a vet.

Uh-oh. You think your horse might be a tad "off." Is the slight lameness for real, or is it your imagination? If it is for real, where's the problem located? Often it's hard to tell, and you'll want to have as much information as you can before you consult your veterinarian.

Here's a four-step procedure to follow to assess whether your horse really is lame and, if so, where he's hurting. Make note of everything you see/feel to share with your vet.


Watch your horse as he's at rest in his pasture or paddock. Does he stand normally, with his feet placed under him? Cocking a hind leg is OK, but "pointing" a front leg is not. A wider-than-normal stance is also a sign to watch for and may indicate neurological deficits.


Examine legs. Have a helper stand your horse up on a firm,
level surface. Visually inspect each leg from every angle, looking
for anything out of the ordinary—cuts, bumps, rubs, bruises,
swellings, discharges.

Palpate legs. Run your bare hand over each leg, exploring with your fingers to feel for heat or sensitive areas. Flex each limb and feel the layers of tendons in back of the cannon bone for bumps or sore spots. Check the digital pulse of each foot. (Using the thumb and middle finger, wrap your hand around the lower fetlock, with your palm toward the front and your finger/ thumb extending to the back of the fetlock to find the pulse.) A normal pulse is faint and slow.

Check out hooves. Place your flat palm and fingers on each hoof, feeling for heat, and comparing each foot to the others. Then raise each hoof, pick it clean, and examine the sole, frog, and bars for lodged items, puncture wounds, bruises, cracks, or any other abnormalities. Tap the sole with the hoof pick. . Note whether your horse resists lifting any of his feet; that may indicate pain in the foot on the opposite side.


At a walk. Have your helper lead your horse back and forth on fiat, firm footing as you watch how your horse moves, especially during turns. Is he striding normally, or is he hesitating or otherwise reluctant to move out? Does he turn the same in both directions?

At a trot. Have your helper trot your horse directly away from
you, in a straight line, then pivot and trot straight back to and
past you, so you can view your horse from the back, front, and side. There should be slack in the line so your horse's head and neck movement isn't influenced. Does your horse's head bob at any point? Do either of his hips move unevenly, or do any of his toes drag? is his stride shorter than normal?

[Standing your horse squarely and visually examining his legs is an early step in assessing the presence and cause of lameness.]


Trot on the longe line. Have your helper longe your horse at a trot in both directions as you watch to see if his movement is the same going both ways. Watch, as before, for head bobs and any other hitches in his movement.

Tighten the circle. The smaller the circle, the more stress is placed on feet and legs, and therefore the more likely a lameness will reveal itself.

Move to pavement. If your horse can trot a small circle (say, 20 feet in diameter) on a blacktop or concrete surface without showing signs of lameness, he's probably not lame. ■

For help interpreting head-bobs, hip-hikes, and other signs of lameness, search those words at HorseandRider.com.