Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Lameness, Generally

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

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

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

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

  • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
  • If the horse cannot bear weight on the limb or seems otherwise distressed.
  • If you think your horse may have sustained a fracture or other severe injury.
  • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.

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

  • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
  • Limping is visible at the walk but the horse does not seem distressed.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If you have noticed any alteration in your horse's gait.

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

  • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.
  • If you wonder whether limitations on your horse's performance could relate to lameness.

Lameness is an alteration in the way a horse moves a limb or multiple limbs that can result from pain or a mechanical change in the function of a limb. Lameness, generally, causes great pain and suffering for horses. It is the problem causing the greatest loss of use for horses, and the most economic impact to the horse industry.

Lameness can be so subtle that it goes undetected by a horse owner or rider for years. In many cases, its only manifestation may be reduced performance which is erroneously attributed to “the way he is.”

Lameness can also be profound, as in horses that hesitate to place any weight on a limb or take a step forward. Lameness can be acute (develop rapidly) or chronic (long-term) and may or may not inhibit a horse’s ability to perform a certain task.

Sometimes lameness is evident only during certain activities. Other times it is constantly evident regardless of the task at hand. Certain lameness conditions are commonly seen in horses engaged in particular disciplines, while being rare in the population otherwise.

Lameness can be caused by literally thousands of different conditions, from an obvious wound or fracture, a sole bruise or “hot nail”, to chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, to vague and poorly defined conditions like a strained muscle, to systemic diseases like laminitis.


If you think your horse is lame, then stop riding them and seek a veterinary lameness exam. Perform the Whole Horse Exam, putting emphasis on determining which limb is lame, characterizing when and how the lameness appears. Look at and feel the affected limb for swelling, heat, digital pulse. Always pick up the hoof and carefully evaluate the sole.

When in doubt, rest a lame horse in a small enclosure (no larger than 20′ (6 meters) diameter until your vet can determine the nature of the problem, and provide treatment options.


Depending on the severity and nature of the lameness, and many other factors, vets are usually able to narrow down the potential cause of lameness. The veterinary diagnostic process centers around the lameness exam, a methodical series of steps taken to narrow down the location and type of the condition causing lameness.

It is important for horse owners to understand the basics regarding equine limb anatomy and function, common causes of equine lameness and the veterinarian’s role in diagnosing and treating lameness. The more aware you are, the more likely you are to detect or consider lameness, and take steps toward diagnosis and treatment.

What Not To Do

Do not give your horse pain relieving medications and ask them to perform their job. You may cause them to over-exert, worsening the injury.

Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

Lameness, Conditions Causing, Generally
Sole, Foot or Hoof Abscess
Laminitis, Chronic
Joint Capsulitis, Synovitis, Tenosynovitis
Laminitis, Acute
Osteoarthritis, OA, Generally
Splints, Splint Exostosis
Traumatic Injury Bruise or Contusion
Sole, Foot, Corn or Heel Bruise
Pastern Arthritis, High Ringbone
Fracture of Carpal Bone Chip & Slab
Hoof Pain After Trimming or Shoes Pulled
Ligament & Tendon Injuries, Generally
Osteochondrosis, OC, Osteochondritis Dissecans, OCD
Neck Conditions, Generally
Foot or Hoof Conditions, Undiagnosed
Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Disease, DSLD
Flexor Tendon Injury, Tendinitis, Bowed Tendon
Contracted Heels
Hoof Wall Cracks, Generally
Lameness, Undiagnosed
Sheared Heels
Intermittent Upward Fixation of Patella
Strain or Injury Distal Ligaments Proximal Sesamoid
Bucked Shins
Deep Digital Flexor Tendinitis in Hoof
Proximal Suspensory Ligament Injury, Front Limb
Suspensory Ligament Body Injury
Proximal Suspensory Ligament Injury, Hind Limb
Fetlock Arthritis, Osselets
Fibrotic Myopathy
Nail or Other Foreign Body Punctures Foot, Sole or Frog
Suspensory Ligament Branch Injury
Salmonella Colitis (in Growing Foal or Adult)
Club Foot, Flexural Deformity (in Adult)
Foal, Contracted Tendon DDFT, Coffin Joint
Annular Ligament Disease, Palmar or Plantar
Back Pain, Generally
Peroneus Tertius Rupture
Wounds to Heel &/or Pastern, Heel Bulb Area
Clostridial Muscle & Fascia Infection (Myonecrosis)
Wound or Laceration from Overreach Injury
Lymphedema, Chronic Progressive
Intervertebral Osteoarthritis
Aging Changes, Generally
Coffin Joint Collateral Ligament Injury
Subchondral Bone Cyst, Stifle
Stress or Hairline Fractures, Generally
Conformational Defects, Back, Generally
Pedal Osteitis, Marginal Fractures Coffin Bone
Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, PPID
Fracture of Splint Bone
Pigeon Fever
Cruciate Ligament Injury
Flexural Deformity Fetlock Joint, SDFT
Carpal Arthritis, Carpitis
Carpal Hygroma, Synovial Hernia, Ganglion
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Carpal Canal Tenosynovitis
Hoof Wall Crack, Heel & Quarter
Subchondral Bone Cyst, Generally
Stifle Meniscal & Collateral Ligament Injury
Carbohydrate or Grain Overload
Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, EPM
Wound or Laceration of Coronet Band & Hoof Wall
Vasculitis, Generally
Aorto-Iliac Thrombosis
Equine Metabolic Syndrome, EMS
Wound or Laceration involving Lower Limb Flexor Tendon
Inferior Check Ligament Strains or Tears
Fracture of Cannon Bone, Condylar
Lyme Disease, Borreliosis
Collateral Ligament Injury or Rupture, Generally
Fracture of Extensor Process P3
Fracture of Sesamoid Bones
Navicular Bursa Penetrated by Foreign Body
Quittor, Infected Collateral Cartilage
Hoof Wall Crack, Blowout
Bone Bruise
Fracture of Hip, Pelvis
Equine Canker
Big Head or Bran Disease
Dislocated Hip, Coxo-Femoral Luxation
Fracture of Humerus
Luxated Patella
Fracture of Scapula or Point of Shoulder
Radial Exostosis & Osteochondroma
Fluoroquinolone Induced Tendinopathy
Pastern Dermatitis, Scratches, Mud Fever
Fracture of Radius or Tibia
Fracture of Femur & 3rd Trochanter Fracture
Pigeon Toe (in Growing Foal or Adult)
Hoary Alyssum Toxicity
Vesicular Stomatitis, VS
Obesity, Overweight or Fat
Fescue Toxicosis
Shoe Boil, Olecranon Bursitis
Selenium Toxicity
Black Walnut Shavings Toxicity
Upward Curvature of Spine, Lumbar Kyphosis
Granulosa, Theca Cell Tumor & Other Ovarian Tumors
Bacteremia, Septicemia (in Adult)
Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.