Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Lameness, Recent Front Limb

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 seems to be in distress.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
  • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.

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

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
  • If the lameness is mild.

Lameness is an alteration in gait caused by pain or a restriction on movement (mechanical lameness).

Sudden onset forelimb lameness is a very common equine emergency. About 90% of forelimb lameness arises from a problem in the lower limb, below the fetlock joint. Upper front limb (shoulder, elbow) lameness is generally very rare in adult horses.

There are as many potential causes as there are anatomic locations within the limb. The most likely diagnoses depends very much upon the horse’s breed, type, conformation and use.

Conditions causing lameness can involve any of the tissues of the limb: skin, hoof, connective tissue, muscle, bone, joint, ligament and tendon, tendon sheath, bursa, nerves and blood vessels.

Often acute or sudden forelimb lameness is assumed to have recently occurred, but may simply have gone undetected.


Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). Take a rectal temperature. Look for swelling anywhere on the lame limb. Lift the hoof and inspect the solar surface of the hoof for stones or other objects. Feel for digital pulse. Compare your findings on the lame limb with those of the normal limb. Look for signs of other abnormalities or problems.

Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.


Your vet takes a careful history and performs a physical and lameness exam. Identifying the underlying problem is essential to the choice of treatment.

Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

Lameness, Conditions Causing, Generally
Sole, Foot, Corn or Heel Bruise
Sole, Foot or Hoof Abscess
Ligament & Tendon Injuries, Generally
Laminitis, Acute
Osteoarthritis, OA, Generally
Fracture of Carpal Bone Chip & Slab
Sheared Heels
Splints, Splint Exostosis
Foot or Hoof Conditions, Undiagnosed
Flexor Tendon Injury, Tendinitis, Bowed Tendon
Navicular Syndrome
Fracture of Coffin Bone, Generally
Pedal Osteitis, Marginal Fractures Coffin Bone
Nail or Other Foreign Body Punctures Foot, Sole or Frog
Suspensory Ligament Branch Injury
Deep Digital Flexor Tendinitis in Hoof
Strain or Injury Distal Ligaments Proximal Sesamoid
Coffin Joint Arthritis, Low Ringbone
Laminitis, Support-Limb
Neck Conditions, Generally
Suspensory Ligament Body Injury
Fracture of Splint Bone
Proximal Suspensory Ligament Injury, Front Limb
Fracture or Broken Bone, Generally
Joint Capsulitis, Synovitis, Tenosynovitis
Carpal Arthritis, Carpitis
Fetlock Arthritis, Osselets
Osteochondrosis, OC, Osteochondritis Dissecans, OCD
Rope Burn, Uncomplicated Pastern Abrasion
Pastern Arthritis, High Ringbone
Carbohydrate or Grain Overload
Wound or Laceration into Joint, Tendon Sheath or Bursa
Infection of Extensor Tendon Sheath
Septic or Infected Flexor Tendon Sheath (in Adult)
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Carpal Canal Tenosynovitis
Fracture of Pastern Bones
Wound or Laceration of Coronet Band & Hoof Wall
Carpal Hygroma, Synovial Hernia, Ganglion
Collateral Ligament Injury or Rupture, Generally
Stress or Hairline Fractures, Generally
Fracture of Sesamoid Bones
Fracture of Cannon Bone, Condylar
Sidebone, Ossified Collateral Cartilage
Fracture of Scapula or Point of Shoulder
Navicular Bursa Penetrated by Foreign Body
Fracture of Extensor Process P3
Fracture of Radius or Tibia
Biceps Brachii Tendinitis, Bicipital Bursitis
Offset Carpus or Bench Knees
Pigeon Fever
Fracture of Navicular Bone
Fracture of Cannon Bone, Complete
Obesity, Overweight or Fat
Lameness, Undiagnosed
Radial Exostosis & Osteochondroma
False Ringbone
Deep Digital Flexor Tendon Rupture

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

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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