I have realised that I really cannot see lameness and it makes me worry that I don’t see issues with my own horses. How can I learn to get better at this so that I don’t miss something important?
Lameness is not always easy to spot, especially when it’s mild. A lame horse may appear to take a shorter stride on the lame leg, swing his leg outwards instead of underneath him or bear his weight unevenly by, for instance, putting more weight on the outside or inside of the hoof wall while walking.
In the walk and trot the horse’s footfalls should be in an even rhythm with no rushing or toe dragging.
To spot lameness you’ll need to watch carefully and have someone else walk and trot the horse away from and towards you, preferably on a flat and hard surface. When the horse is being led away from you, look for the hindquarters dipping an uneven amount on each side as he moves and whether one hindleg swings out to the side, is snatched up or if he’s dragging his toes. When he’s led towards you, you might spot him nodding his head. It’s also worth looking to see how evenly he picks up his front feet. Some vets ask for the horse to be trotted past them side-on as well, which can help them to see any shortness in the strides.
Another good way to spot lameness, can be to watch your horse walk and trot on a circle, as this can accentuate any issues and make it clear where the problem is. Make sure to circle on both sides and to ensure that the horse is calm when moving.
If you are struggling visually to spot the issue, it can also help to close your eyes and listen to this rhythm – it can sometimes be easier to hear unevenness in the rhythm than to see it.
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself about this. Lameness detection is something that you get better at with practice, and even the most seasoned observers can sometimes miss something. Try and learn what you can by listening to other knowledgeable people and by observing as many horses as you can, but if you have any concerns about your own horses, just call you vet – nobody will laugh at you and it is always better to be safe than sorry!
It goes without saying that if your horse is at all lame you should always call your vet for an examination to help you to get to the bottom of what is causing the lameness. If you do call your vet out for lameness, ask them to explain what they’re seeing. Most vets will be more than happy to help you learn more.