Keeping Horses in the Game

Navigating Lameness Prevention and Treatment

Owners and riders have the responsibility of making sure their horses are healthy and sound. Horses are incredible athletes both in and out of the show ring, so it is important that they are cared for like any elite athlete. Non-equestrians do not equate performance horses to football players, marathon runners, or gymnasts, but horse owners and veterinarians know the same level of commitment is required to keep equine athletes in optimal health and fitness.

The goals of Sport Horse Medicine are to keep horses feeling and performing at their best, detect subtle changes, appropriately address underlying issues, and correctly diagnose and treat injuries to get horses back to optimum health. Despite being powerful and strong animals, horses are relatively fragile. One day they are competing in perfect form, and the next they might walk out of their stall lame. Thus begins the process of addressing the issue and determining a treatment plan.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic has a team of veterinarians who specialize in Sport Horse Medicine to keep equine athletes performing at their best.
Photo by Jump Media

Lameness can manifest itself in different ways, from subtle decreases in performance to severe and obvious signs of pain. Lameness is not a diagnosis or disease; it is the symptom of an underlying issue. Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington, FL, has a team of veterinarians who specialize in Sport Horse Medicine and are skilled at diagnosing and treating the root causes of lameness. Pinpointing the underlying issue is the crucial first step in proper rehabilitation.

Understandably, practicing proactive prevention is the best approach to avoiding incidents of lameness. It is important to do what we can to prevent serious incidents such as falling, missteps, and accidents with other horses. Key to these efforts is detecting signs of lameness as early as possible so underlying issues do not exacerbate or cause longer-term lameness. Prevention techniques combined with proper training and rest, high-quality nutrition, and correct and balanced farrier work, help reduce usual wear-and-tear injuries.

Catching Lameness Early
Early recognition of the signs of lameness may help prevent more serious injuries from occurring. A firm understanding of what is “normal” for your horse is crucial to identifying subtle changes in behaviors, movement, or body conditions.

Once a day, do a hands-on leg check. During this exam, compare opposite legs to detect signs of heat, swelling, or sensitivity. While exercising the horse make sure you are aware of a shortness of stride, decrease in performance, reduced stamina, or changes in attitude. If you suspect a problem, give the horse a few days off. If the signs return when work is resumed ask your veterinarian to examine them. Remember that a mild problem can turn into a career-limiting condition if left untreated.

Scheduling routine performance evaluations with your veterinarian can also help catch signs of lameness early. Thorough evaluations often consist of:

• History from rider and trainer covering the how, what, when, and why of the perceived lameness
• Physical examination and limb palpation to detect swelling or soreness
• Lameness or motion examination, both in hand and under tack, to see how the horse moves and may be compensating
• Flexion testing to narrow down the problem area
• Diagnostic analgesia (nerve blocks) to pinpoint the specific area causing pain
• Isolation and confirmation of the problem area
• Diagnosing underlying issues through imaging such as a radiograph (x-ray), ultrasound, nuclear scintigraphy (bone scan), magnetic resonance imagining (MRI), or computed tomography (CT)
• Specific identification of the lameness or performance problem

Treatment Options
Even with preventative care, we cannot avoid all injuries. Therefore, it is important to work with your veterinarian to develop the best treatment plan for when an injury occurs. There are a wide range of traditional treatment methods including conservative treatment (rest, ice, compression), medical management (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids), intra-articular medication (joint injections), soft tissue treatment (self-derived biologic therapies such as stem cells or pro-stride and shockwave, laser, and ultrasound), and as a last resort, surgery.

Veterinary practices like Palm Beach Equine Clinic also offer a holistic treatment approach through the use of Alternative Therapies. Often used in conjunction with traditional medicine, these therapies can be uniquely tailored to enhance a horse’s performance and overall health. Alternative Therapies include acupuncture and electro-acupuncture, veterinary medical manipulation (chiropractic adjustments), laser therapy, shockwave treatments, and Chinese herbal medicine.

Many causes of lameness are not intuitive, which makes them difficult to diagnose without the knowledgeable eye of an experienced Sport Horse Medicine veterinarian. At Palm Beach Equine Clinic, the goal is to get horses “back in the game” and keep them safe throughout their athletic careers.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians and staff strive to be a vital part of the equine athlete’s support team and are committed to delivering comprehensive care specialized to the individual horse’s career, discipline, performance level, and training demands. Contact Palm Beach Equine Clinic today to make sure your horse is in optimal health.