It can sometimes be tricky to identify where lameness is coming from. Alan Davies, head groom to Carl Hester, explains how to work it out.

Every horse has his own specific conformation and action. Lameness is defined as any change in a horse’s usual way of moving, so knowing what is normal for your horse will help you decipher if and how lame he is.

Whether slight or severe, lameness is usually a sign of pain or discomfort and identifying the root cause is essential for getting your horse sound again.

Trotting up

Once you suspect lameness in your horse, by changes in his movement or behaviour, the next port of call is to trot your horse up.

On a solid, level surface, ask a competent handler to lead your horse on a fairly loose rein, so that his head is not restricted while he’s moving.

Watch the horse walk and trot away from you and then towards you in a straight line. If the lameness isn’t clear, watch him on a circle too.

Investigating lameness

When trying to work out where the lameness is coming from, start with your horse’s feet. The majority of lameness originates in the foot, so eliminate the most obvious causes first.

Stand your horse on a level surface. Pick his feet out and check for any stones that may have become lodged in the sole, frog groove or underneath the shoe.

Check the feet for any sharp objects that could have worked their way into the sole of the foot, heat in the hoof wall, or any other injuries in that area.

If you can’t find anything in the feet, the next step is to run your hands up the leg, feeling for heat around the coronary band and the heel. Next, check for heat and swelling between the fetlock and the knee or hock, to rule out any problems in the tendons or ligaments.

The knee, elbow and shoulder in the foreleg, plus the hock, stifle and hip in the handle, will also need to be examined for heat and swelling.

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