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


Lameness, Immediately Following Trauma or Accident


You just saw your horse get kicked by another horse, run into a wall or other structure, or fall down. Now the horse is obviously lame.

Just like human athletes that take a few moments to recover after a traumatic blow, horses may be severely lame for a few steps, but rapidly improve or "walk it off". Some cases of interference (limb to limb contact) cause lameness that may be severe for a moment but rapidly improve. However, serious injuries (including fractures and tendon or ligament strains) may also result.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If lameness visible at the walk persists for more than 10 minutes.
  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.

your role


What To Do

Following an impact or accident, and if you do not notice an obvious injury like a wound or obvious fracture, give a horse several minutes to recover before making any judgments about the the severity of the injury.

Let the horse rest for a few moments. Then try to walk the horse forward a few steps. Monitor the horse for sweating and high heart rate. Run your hands all over the horse's limbs, looking for swelling, breaks in the skin or increased digital pulse in the affected hoof. Lift the limb gently, manipulate it and assess its range of motion.

If lameness or reluctance to move persists longer than 5 minutes, contact your vet to discuss your findings and concerns. Horses that continue to resist bearing weight for more than 5 minutes, or are seriously lame at the walk for more than 10 minutes are more likely to have sustained a serious injury (fracture, tendon or ligament injury).

What Not To Do

Do not simply assume that the horse is "better" based on rapid improvement following obvious traumatic injury. Certain injuries including tendon and ligament strains will worsen if they are not managed promptly and correctly at the outset. When in doubt, get veterinary assessment.

Do not mask signs with pain relievers like phenylbutazone, and force or allow the horse to exercise, as this may worsen the injury.

your vet's role

For the best possible outcome, always contact your vet after an accident. If a horse is visibly lame after an accident, there is value in making a veterinary diagnosis. Certain injuries, like tendon and ligament strains and joint injuries, may improve with bute, but will worsen if they are not managed correctly at the outset.

Your vet performs a general physical exam and then assesses the horse for lameness. The results of that exam dictate the recommended diagnostics and initial treatments.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Describe what happened.
  • When do you think the injury happened?
  • Does your horse have a history of lameness?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Have you given your horse bute or an NSAID?

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

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP