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


Limb or Joint Seems to have Excessive Range of Motion


Any injury to the support structures of the limb (tendon, bone or ligament), may result in a limb that feels abnormally loose. That said, it is important to know that in a normal horse the structures of the limb feel somewhat lax when the limb is not bearing weight. This can cause an inexperienced examiner to falsely conclude that a horse has broken its leg.

There may be a few instances in which you make this observation. The first scenario is one in which the horse will not walk forward and one limb is held strangely. Unfortunately, this is what horses look like when they have suffered a complete fracture of a limb.

Horses that have sustained a severe fracture also sweat, have an elevated heart rare, are anxious and reluctant to move. Importantly, they simply will not put any weight on the affected limb. If your horse can bear weight on the loose limb but it is accompanied by a severe limp or swelling, this too could result from a very severe injury.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If severe lameness accompanies this sign.
    • If your horse will not bear weight on the affected limb.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If there is mild lameness accompanying this sign.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

If the horse is reluctant to move, let them be. Call your vet immediately. They may advise you to give the horse medication to provide some relief until they arrive.

What Not To Do

Do not assume anything based on the apparent mobility or immobility of an equine limb. Examination can be misleading unless you are very experienced.

your vet's role

In many cases, your vet will quickly make a diagnosis from their physical examination. Otherwise, they will use diagnostics such as radiography, to diagnose the injury.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this?
  • How lame is the horse?
  • Can the horse bear weight on all the limbs and walk forward fairly normally?
  • Can your horse bear any weight on the affected limb?
  • To you knowledge, did your horse have an accident or injure itself lately?
  • Is the horse out with others such that it might have been kicked?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Will the limb move freely side to side in a plane that it does not normally move?
  • Does the horse show a pain response when you apply pressure to the area?
  • Do you notice cracking or crunching as you move the limb?
  • Do you notice any swelling or other abnormality in the area?
  • Does the horse react in pain when the limb is raised or manipulated?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

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

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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP