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


Limb appears Obviously Fractured or Broken


A horse with a major fracture of the limb cannot bear any weight on it. Sometimes the limb is floppy or seems excessively loose side to side, having lost all of its skeletal support. In some cases, this occurs with compound fractures in the lower limb, where the bone penetrates through the skin. Fractured bones can make crunching sounds as they rub against each other (crepitus) if the limb is manipulated.

Regardless of the cause, horses that cannot bear weight on a limb are usually in great distress. However, just because a horse is not bearing weight on a limb does not mean they have a fracture. Severe, non-weight bearing lameness may also be caused by a sole abscess, a severe hoof bruise, an infected joint, bursa or tendon sheath, ruptured ligaments, nail puncture or joint luxations (dislocations), among others.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to rectal temperature, heart rate and the presence of swelling in a limb, hair loss or wounds on the limb. If there is a question of whether or not the horse can bear weight, then try to walk them forward a step, but do not force them if they resist.

Look at the limb to see if it is deviated abnormally but keep in mind that appearance can be misleading. Gently raise the limb forward, and move it side to side. Does this cause a pain response? Contact your vet immediately with your findings and concerns.

What Not To Do

Do not force the horse to walk forward if they strongly resist. Do not medicate heavily with anti-inflammatory pain relievers like bute without your vet's direction.

Do not attempt to splint the limb unless you have veterinary knowledge. An improperly splinted limb can cause more damage.

your vet's role

Vets use their knowledge of anatomy and function of the limb to determine the nature of the injury. They may use nerve blocks, radiographs or ultrasound in their exam. Once a specific diagnosis is known, treatment options and prognosis can be discussed. Some fractures have a reasonable prognosis, while others are very difficult and expensive to treat. In severe cases, euthanasia will be a reasonable option.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Can your horse bear any weight on the affected limb?
  • Is there any other sign of injury or an accident?
  • To you knowledge, did your horse have an accident or injure itself lately?
  • Can I have your location and directions to get to you as soon as possible?
  • Will the limb move freely side to side in a plane that it does not normally move?
  • Do you notice cracking or crunching as you move the limb?
  • Do you see bone sticking out from beneath or through the skin?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • 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