What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Lameness, Sudden Onset Under Saddle


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.

  • 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 also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

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.

What Not To Do

If there is an obvious injury and the horse is unwilling to move forward, do not force the horse to move. Get veterinary attention immediately.

Do not give pain relievers to horses that have been injured but not examined by a vet, and then continue to exercise them. This short-term fix can have disastrous long-term consequences.

your vet's role

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
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What was the horse doing at the time of injury?
  • How lame is the horse?
  • Can your horse bear any weight on the affected limb?
  • Do you notice any swelling or abnormality in the limb?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Is the problem improving with time or not?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP