White Shetland pony sat down in a field

How to help a lame horse

What can start as a slight limp can quickly escalate to something more serious, so it’s important to take action as soon as you notice any lameness.

How can I tell if my horse is lame?

If your horse is limping and bobbing its head while walking then you may have a lame horse. So it’s important that you:

  • check their feet – pick up each of your horse’s hooves and make sure there are no stones caught in the gaps. While you’re there, also look for any cracks or dark spots that could indicate an injury or bruising.
  • feel lower legs – feel your horse’s lower legs for heat or swelling and look for any obvious cuts or wounds
  • gently move their joints - look at their range of motion which will help to determine if your horse is in any pain
  • check for limping – carefully watch your horse walk in a straight line on a hard surface to assess any limping. If it’s not obvious, then lunging will help you to move your horse through the gaits to spot if they are limping or dropping a hip, which can happen when your horse has a hind limb lameness.
  • check their neck and back - run your hands over them and carefully watch your horse for any flinching and feel for any swelling or heat which could indicate inflammation

How can I help my lame horse?

If you think your horse is lame, it’s important to speak with your vet asap so they can determine the cause and provide the correct treatment. In the interim, you can do the following to help your lame horse:

  • clean your horse’s hooves – cleaning out your horse’s hooves with a hoof pick will dislodge any debris trapped and, if this is the cause, you won’t need to contact your vet
  • keep them stabled – sometimes the reason your horse is lame is unclear. If this is the case, then keeping them stabled until they can be looked at by your vet will keep them from causing more damage to themselves.
  • don’t ride your horse – adding more weight to an injury is never a good idea, so riding your horse is best left until you’ve been advised by your vet that it’s safe to do so

What causes lameness?

A lame horse could be suffering from a variety of different things. Only your vet will be able to determine the cause and provide you with treatment. Some of the most common causes of lameness are:

  • laminitis
  • bruises or injuries to the hoof
  • sprain or a fracture
  • degenerative diseases, such as arthritis
  • back and neck issues
  • infection
— Page last updated 09/12/2019