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


Lameness, Recent Front Limb


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

Sudden onset forelimb lameness is a very common equine emergency. About 90% of forelimb lameness arises from a problem in the lower limb, below the fetlock joint. Upper front limb (shoulder, elbow) lameness is generally very rare in adult horses.

There are as many potential causes as there are anatomic locations within the limb. The most likely diagnoses depends very much upon the horse's breed, type, conformation and use.

Conditions causing lameness can involve any of the tissues of the limb: skin, hoof, connective tissue, muscle, bone, joint, ligament and tendon, tendon sheath, bursa, nerves and blood vessels.

Often acute or sudden forelimb lameness is assumed to have recently occurred, but may simply have gone undetected.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the horse seems to be in distress.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
    • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
    • If the lameness is mild.
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). Take a rectal temperature. Look for swelling anywhere on the lame limb. Lift the hoof and inspect the solar surface of the hoof for stones or other objects. Feel for digital pulse. Compare your findings on the lame limb with those of the normal limb. Look for signs of other abnormalities or problems.

Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

What Not To Do

Do not medicate a lame horse with pain relievers and then continue to work the horse, without veterinary involvement.

your vet's role


Your vet takes a careful history and performs a physical and lameness exam. Identifying the underlying problem is essential to the choice of treatment.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • When did you first notice the lameness?
  • What does the horse do for a living?
  • Do you notice any swelling or heat in the limb?
  • Does this horse have a history of lameness?
  • When was the horse's last shoeing?
  • Is the lameness noticeable to you at the walk?
  • How lame is the horse?
  • When was the horse last worked?
  • Does the horse have a fever?
  • 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