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What does it mean for a horse to be lame?

When your horse experiences issues that affect their bones and joints, this can cause them to become lame. Here, our Ocala vets answer the question, 'What does a horse being lame mean?' while sharing some of the symptoms and treatment options for lameness.


What does it mean for a horse to be lame?

If a horse isn’t performing its best, any horse owner might feel many different emotions. This blog post has been created to share valuable information about lame horses and the meaning of lameness.

If you want to know, 'What does a lame horse mean?' the answer isn't quite as straightforward as the question. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), lameness is defined as a change in a horse’s gait. Let's discuss this further.

What is lameness in horses?

Often, lameness is the first sign that there is a deeper medical issue at hand. While you may not be all that concerned if your horse experiences a slight change in gait, identifying the issue can prevent serious complications from occurring later on. Once the cause of the lameness is diagnosed, treatment can target the issue. While lameness is often associated with foot or leg issues, it can originate in either bone or soft tissue, and affect any part of the bone.

Lameness in horses falls into two categories: acute or chronic.

  • Acute: Occurs suddenly, often due to injury or trauma, and lasts for less than two weeks.
  • Chronic: Occurs longer than two weeks, often due to a medical condition.

What are the symptoms of lameness in horses?

As we mentioned above, lameness can be caused by a wide range of issues and it is often first spotted when we notice a change in our horse's gait.

Lameness is characterized by shorter strides, changes in gait, heat, swelling, and tripping in front, caused by your horse being unable to lift their hoof off the ground. Lameness is commonly diagnosed in performance or working horses who bear excessive weight to their joints.

Some of the signs that point to lameness include:

  • Reduced performance
  • Favoring the limb
  • Shortened foreleg stride
  • Hoof issues
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Heat around the knee
  • Head bobbing

What should I do with a lame horse?

Horses with lameness are often prescribed NSAIDs to reduce the pain and inflammation. Stall rest (potentially with intermittent icing) is recommended in nearly all cases.

To prevent lameness, horses should maintain a healthy weight and follow a regular exercise program. One of the most common factors in the development of knee issues is overuse. This means that rest between events or working is crucial.

The treatment plan for lameness in horses depends on the issue and its severity. Some of the treatment options that are commonly recommended for lame horses include:

  • Rest
  • Controlled exercise
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Joint supplements

You should always contact your vet if you notice any issues with your horse's gait or if they refuse to bear weight on any limb. They will perform a complete examination and if needed, a lameness evaluation, to diagnose the issue and recommend a treatment plan. At Florida Equine Veterinary Associates, we offer many different equine therapeutic techniques to help improve the health and well-being of your horse. Ask us about how these can benefit your horse after a lameness diagnosis.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals, or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate regulations governing the care and transportation of equine animals please contact your vet.

Is your horse bobbing their head or showing signs of gait issues? Contact our veterinary team at Florida Equine Veterinary Associates today to schedule a lameness examination.

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