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


Lameness, Severe, Cannot Support Weight on Limb


Your horse is very lame. You ask your horse to walk forward. They are reluctant, and hardly touch the toe of their hoof to the ground. Perhaps they hop, without touching that limb to the ground at all.

Severe non-weight bearing lameness is most often caused by a fracture, sole abscess or severe bruise, or an infection in a joint, bursa or tendon sheath. Less commonly, it is caused by severe tendon or ligament injury. Occasionally, nerve paralysis can appear as severe lameness. In horses recently exercised or ridden, occasionally limb to limb contact can cause severe pain which quickly improves over a few moments, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Generally, horses with this degree of lameness are in great pain and distress.

  • Code Red

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


What To Do

Call your vet immediately. You can look for an injury and assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), but do not force the horse to move. Pay particular attention to the rectal temperature and heart rate. Look for swelling and heat in the limb but recognize that it is very hard to compare a non weight bearing limb to the supporting limb. Feel for digital pulse and gently lift the limb to see if this causes a pain withdrawal response. Allow the horse to stand still quietly until your vet arrives. Talk to your vet about whether you should medicate your horse with an anti-inflammatory/pain reliever to relieve pain until they arrive. If you do this, tell your vet exactly what was given (drug, time, amount) because it may change their interpretation of their examination.

What Not To Do

Do not force a severely lame horse to walk more than a few steps unless absolutely needed or at under vet direction.

your vet's role

Your vet rules out the common causes of severe lameness. In most cases, injuries that are severe enough to cause this level of lameness will also be evidenced by swelling, heat or other signs. But this is not always the case. In that case, your vet may need to perform nerve blocks in order to define where the pain is coming from.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Do you know how this happened?
  • What treatments have you tried?
  • Have you tried any treatments?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Was the horse shod recently?
  • Was the horse ridden recently?
  • Is there any sign of an accident or injury?
  • Do you notice a digital pulse or heat in the foot?
  • Do you notice any swelling or heat in the limb?
  • Have you picked the hoof up and examined the walking surface of the hoof?
  • Have you compared the digital pulse of this foot to the others?
  • What is the horse's rectal temperature?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnostics Your Vet May Perform

Figuring out the cause of the problem. These are tests or procedures used by your vet to determine what’s wrong.

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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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further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP