Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Lameness, Sudden Onset Under Saddle

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the horse will not move or cannot bear weight on the limb, even after 5 minutes.
  • If lameness is noticeable at the walk.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • The problem seems to have improved, but you are not sure if the lameness is completely resolved.

You are riding your horse – performance or pleasure – and suddenly your horse stops and will not move forward. You may have heard a sound or felt a bad step. You dismount and your horse is obviously lame on one limb. The horse may not want to walk at all or is limping.

The severity of the injury is likely related to the intensity and type of exercise. For a racehorse, an injury severe enough to overcome adrenaline and speed and bring the horse to a stop may well be catastrophic, a fracture or severe tendon tear.

For a pleasure horse, the injury could be anything from a stone bruise to a tendon strain. Maybe the horse stepped on a nail or other sharp object. Limb to limb contact (interference) may cause instantaneous and severe pain that begins to resolve after the moment of contact.


Dismount and ask the horse to step forward a few steps. If it is reluctant, examine the affected limb by first lifting it gently and checking the sole for a stone or nail. Look up and down the limb. Feel the limb and gently flex it and move it to the side gently. Do you get a response?

You may also give the horse a few moments to rest and then ask them to walk them forward. If they are willing to walk forward, the safest thing to do is hand walk your horse to the barn. When you arrive, examine the limb again, especially feeling for digital pulse. With time, swelling may develop giving further clues about the injury.

Confine the horse in a stall until your vet can evaluate the injury. Your vet may advise you to give medication until they arrive.


Your vet performs a lameness exam, but considers the fact that the injury apparently occurred while under saddle. In that case, we try to rule out particular types of more common injuries in the performing horses. The history in this case may influence the diagnostic approach that your vet uses. In addition, there will be

Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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