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


Lameness, Chronic Front Limb


Lameness is an alteration in gait caused by pain or a restriction on movement (mechanical lameness).

For horses of all breeds, ages and disciplines, chronic front limb lameness is one of the most common causes of lost use. There are hundreds of anatomic structures in the front limb of a horse. Pain can arise from any one of them. In some cases, pain arises from multiple sites.

Ideally, any lameness is assessed by a vet soon after it is detected. Some lameness conditions, if allowed to progress, cause serious and sometimes irreversible harm to the anatomy of the limb, resulting in permanent and irreversible lameness.

Approximately 90% of front limb lameness originates in the lower limb below the fetlock. Lameness originating in the upper limb are relatively rare in adult horses, but do occur. Lameness originating from conditions higher up the forelimb is much more common in growing horses. Common conditions causing chronic lameness in the forelimb are navicular disease/chronic heel pain, osteoarthritis of a joint, and tendon or ligament injuries.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If lameness is noticeable at the walk.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If the lameness is mild.

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). Look for swelling in any of the limbs and especially the one you think is lame. To the extent you can, assess the horse for lameness at the walk and trot. See if you can identify which limb is lame and how consistent and severe the lameness appears. Look for digital pulse and heat in the feet. Look for signs of any other abnormalities and share your findings with your vet.

Consider the horse's conformation and any past accidents or prior lameness diagnoses. Prior to your appointment, gather any veterinary records that can provide additional history that might be useful to your veterinarian. If you have only recently purchased the horse, consider contacting the prior owner and gathering whatever records they have.

What Not To Do

Do not assume that you know the diagnosis. In many cases, I have had horse owners bring their horses to me after assuming the diagnosis for a long period, only to be shocked by the actual diagnosis.

your vet's role


Your vet will perform a lameness examination on your horse. This starts with a careful history and physical examination. Once the clinical examination is performed, they may discuss other diagnostics required to make a diagnosis. A diagnosis of the underlying problem is the starting point for the development of an effective treatment plan and prognosis.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • How long have you owned or leased the horse?
  • What do you hope to do with your horse in the future?
  • What do you do with the horse?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Is there digital pulse or heat in the foot of the lame limb?
  • Do you notice any swelling or abnormality in the limb?
  • Was a purchase exam performed before buying the horse?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • How severe do you think the lameness is?
  • Is there a history of severe lameness or accident in the horse's past?
  • Has the horse been lame historically?
  • What does the horse do for a living?

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