There are a lot of reasons why a horse may be lame. Soft tissue injuries, joint inflammation and bruises of all types, can all make a horse lame. These are often obvious, and present with not just lameness but heat you can feel and swelling that is obvious. What isn’t quite as obvious is hoof problems that cause lameness. Hoof pain can look like other problems, like back or body pain or even balkiness when ridden.
It often requires a veterinarian and or farrier to diagnose a hoof ailment. Sometimes hoof pain is quite sudden. But it can build slowly as well.
Some obvious signs of hoof pain is the horse will either stand with its feet well underneath it, or it will ‘point’.
When a horse points it stands with one or both feet pointed out in front of it, with the weight on the heels. And, it may even prop a foot up on something like a root, rock or even low fence rail. The horse may constantly shift its weight off one foot or another. The horse may hold its neck stiffly and tip its head up and out, either overly high or low. The horse may travel with a choppy or stiff gate. And most telling is the horse’s preference for travelling on soft footing. A horse may appear sound on loose soil, but be stiff and stilted when asked to walk on a hard surface like gravel or pavement.
There are many different ailments that cause foot soreness.
Navicular disease is a breakdown of the navicular bone inside the hoof. This can lead to painful lameness. While the pain can be managed, there is no treatment to cure navicular disease. Corrective trimming and shoeing can be helpful, and performance horses may need lighter work.
Side or Ring Bones
Side bones are caused by concussion over a long term. The cartilage hardens and provides less cushioning to the hoof. Ring bone is an arthritic condition of the coffin or pastern joint, and is usually caused by injury. Both can cause lameness.
Damaged Hoof Structure
Hooves that are improperly trimmed, soles that are carved to thin, frogs carved too aggressively and other trimming ‘accidents’ or ineptness can cause a horse to become lame. Often, the only treatment is giving the hoof time to grow, although some topical preparations may help numb the pain.
Sole Bruising and Punctures
Stepping on a rock or other hard object can cause a bruise in your horse’s foot just as it can in yours. Time heals bruises, but anti-inflammatories and cold hosing can help control pain. Foreign objects can penetrate the sole, and cause painful infection.
Some horses just have thin soles.They are ouchy on hard ground and mince over stones and other rough footing. If you own a Thoroughbred or TB cross, you may be familiar with this, although horses of other breeds may suffer from this too. These horses may benefit from shoeing or hoof boots. Trimming needs to be modest, as taking out too much sole will make them sensitive.
Abscesses may not cause any apparent pain, or they can make your horse dead lame. They may point like a navicular horse or be sensitive like a horse with bruised or thin soles. Poulticing or cold hosing may help. But usually, it takes time for an abscess to work its way through the foot.
Laminitis and Founder
Laminitis is the inflammation of the bonds between the hoof wall and inner lining called the laminae. Laminitis can lead to founder. The inflammation can lead to a rotation of the pedal bone, and when it rotates or sinks, that is then called founder.
Thrush and White Line Disease
Advanced thrush and white line disease can make a horse very lame. This is why it’s important to check your horse’s hooves frequently and have a farrier trim them and check for problems. Infections in the hoof wall can be very painful. And they can take a long time and costly treatment to clear up.
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