What to Expect from an Equine Lameness Exam

What to Expect from an Equine Lameness Exam

Stress, strain, or injury can take a toll on any horse, whether he is an equine athlete or he is spending his days as a pasture puff. When lameness occurs, you should contact your veterinarian. A lameness exam early on can save you time, money, and frustration by diagnosing and treating the problem immediately, possibly preventing further damage from occurring.


When it comes to everything else, being lame means to be uncool. When you are talking about horses, lameness has been defined as any alteration of the horse's gait. In addition, lameness is sometimes described as a change in attitude or performance. These abnormalities can be caused by pain in the neck, withers, shoulders, back, loin, hips, legs or feet. Identifying the source of the problem is essential to the proper treatment of the horse.


When your horse is having a lameness exam, the vet will be doing more than just trotting the horse down a straightaway. He will be performing several tests that may not look super involved but can tell him a lot of information about what is ailing your horse. Keep reading to find out what happens during each leg of the lameness exam!

  • Discussing the medical history of the horse. The veterinarian will ask the owner questions relating to past and present issues the horse has been dealing with. They will also discuss the horse's work schedule.
  • A visual exam of the horse at rest. The veterinarian will study the horse's conformation, balance, and weight-bearing, as well as look for any evidence of injury or stress.
  • A thorough hands-on exam. The veterinarian will palpate the horse, check its muscles, joints, bones, and tendons for evidence of pain, heat, swelling or any other physical abnormalities.
  • Hoof Testers. This instrument allows the veterinarian to apply pressure to the soles of the feet to check for sensitivity or pain.
  • Evaluation of the horse in motion. The veterinarian will watch the horse as he is walking and trotting. Gait evaluation on a flat, hard (concrete) surface usually gives the doctor the information he needs to pinpoint the lameness. While watching the horse from the front, back, and both side views, the veterinarian will notice any unusual changes in the horse's gait (such as winging or paddling), failure to land squarely on all four feet and the unnatural shifting of weight from one limb to another. The horse will be walked and trotted in circles. This may happen on a longe line, in a round pen, and/or under saddle. The veterinarian will be on the lookout for shortening of the stride, irregular foot placement, head bobbing, stiffness, weight shifting, etc.
  • Joint flexion tests. With this test, the veterinarian will hold the horse's limbs in a flexed position and then releases the leg. As the horse trots away, the veterinarian watches for signs of pain, weight shifting or irregular movement. Flexing the joints may reveal the issue when other parts of the lameness exam do not.
  • Possible radiographs. Not every lameness exam will call for radiographs (x-rays) but many times these images can do a better job of pinpointing the problem than the naked eye. With radiographs, doctors are able to see tiny pieces of bone that may have chipped, broken off, or may be lodged inside the leg (or anywhere else). When the lameness exam itself doesn’t seem to be yielding many findings, it is always smart to ask your veterinarian if he recommends radiographs.

While having your horse come up lame may not be in your top five scariest horse situations, without a lameness exam you can never really know what is causing him pain. It is best to always let your vet know when your horse isn’t acting like himself be it a sudden lameness or an issue he has developed after the show last weekend.


When your horse has suddenly become lame or you have a general horse question, we are always available to answer the call! We are open for appointments M-F, 8-5 and always have an emergency vet available on weekends. Give us a call!


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