Hind Leg Lameness In Horses

The Patient

In this case study, I have for you is a 16 year old, grey Hanoverian gelding who has hoof problems, he is a dressage horse who his owners said was “struggling to do dressage movements that were previously achievable”.

Hind leg lameness in horses can start off as a minor problem, if this problem is not treated with corrective shoeing then the minor lameness will get worse over time. The key is to identify a problem sooner rather than later, my specialty is lameness in horses and I have seen and treated a lot of horses in Australia and in England.

Lets Diagnose The Problem?

 

Static assessment

lameness in horses
Static assessment shows the imbalance and the “leaning over “effect. In the photograph above, more pressure is on the right side of the hoof than the left side, this is causing uneven pressure and the horse experiences pain or discomfort.

You may have seen your farrier or vet carry out a static assessment before, its literally a way of diagnosing the problem whilst the horse is standing still. Your farrier may shift the horses weight from one leg to another, this is called ‘Loading’ the limb or leg, other times the use of a tool that causes pressure in specific locations is used to find soreness. The farrier needs to carry out the examination in the static or stationary position to make a decision and work out, what the problem is, what is the likely cause, and how it can be fixed.

In this case there was an asymmetry (where symmetry or evenness is lost and an appearance of something been unusual or unbalanced is apparent). In this case study we can see that both of the hind limbs where the lateral – meaning the outside of both hoof capsules have collapsed, this causes uneven pressures on the above ligaments and tendons. Its no wonder this horse was showing signs of lameness.

The hoof capsule is the entire hoof area from the coronet band to the bearing border and constists of the hoof walls, sole, frog and the bulb.

This in turn was causing strain on both the hocks, stifles and fetlocks. As you can see in the photograph below, more pressure is on the right side of the hoof than the left side, this is causing uneven pressure, which causes pain to the horse when performing dressage movements.

During all movements that a horse makes from the simple to the more complicated, a series of joints, ligaments and tendons come under varying degrees of pressures. The more unequally these pressure’s are exerted then the greater these tensions are dispersed unequally and the more likely an injury will occur.

 

Walk out assessment

What is a walk out assessment? A farrier or vet will ask you to trot your horse in a straight line, so that the farrier can see the horse moving, as this will give your farrier a much better understanding of how your horse can be treated. The static and walk out assessments are needed to help with the  identifying the correct diagnosis.

In this case a walk out confirmed the previous opinion in the static assessment.The hoof landed heavily on the outside then flipped onto the inside via a turning motion. This caused excessive loading upon the stifle, hock and fetlocks. As you can imagine this was causing the horse great discomfort due to the pain and its no wonder the horse was not moving freely.

 

lameness in horses-hind leg loaded

The Problem Explained

The problems this horse has demonstrated  is most likely to have been originated through conformation. It is unlikely that these were acquired , however through effective management of farriery then their effects can be controlled and the propensity for injury reduced.

 

 

 

How To Fix This Issue

In trying to fix this problem we take the approach of shoeing sympathetically for the problems that are posed.

Horse hoof care
Right side branch of the shoe is now much thinner than the left side branch of shoe

We therefore need to address a number of things.

  •  By Spiraling (shaping and trimming) the shoe we could attain a level foot fall, which is really important so the horses hind leg is once again in the correct position. The horses weight is balanced on each foot. This is done by drawing the outside branch of the shoe down so it is much thinner than the inside branch. When the shoe is altered, this counteracts the imbalance of the foot itself, and the apparent unevenness of the shoe actually counteracts the unevenness of the foot.
  •  By making one side of the shoe much thinner than the other you give the other side of the foot a chance to ” catch up” and thus achieve level foot fall. By having this loading of the foot even you start a chain reaction of the forces being dispersed evenly higher up the limb.
  •  The farrier needs to determine the amount of spiral to put on the shoe, this is done by watching the horse move. In some cases a video of the horse which you can then slow down gives an even more accurate assessment. Not all farriers are trained in specific lameness problems, this is an area of expertise I enjoy, its rewarding to see horses with lameness problems and if the problem can be rectified, I enjoy the challenges to getting the horse back into work and reduce the lameness.
  • The outside branch is also increased in its width thus creating an extension for where the foot is lacking and support is needed. This counter acts the unequal strain upon the various joints. As the hind limb started to bear weight or is “loaded” the lack of outside hoof capsule meant that the whole hind leg then fell to the outside. By giving the horse a symmetrical platform to load upon the forces are distributed more evenly and the amount the hock and other joints are displaced is greatly reduced.

 

Hoof Care Problems and Treatment

Notice the increased width of one branch to compensate for the imbalance in the hoof capsule

The Spiraled Shoe

You can see I have spiraled the shoe, this means the shoe has been trimmed and shaped to help the horse over come the hind limb lameness. The shoe is actual fact has been trimmed thinner on one side and the other side of the shoe remains the normal horse shoe width, this is what we refer to as a spiral shoe.

 

Its very clear to see in this photograph that the horse shoe is in fact spiraled for the specific need for our grey Hanoverian gelding.

 

 

As you can see in the picture above, by spiraling the shoe to the degree I did here.

The symmetry was imposed and the unequal gait was compensated as demonstrated in the picture of the horse wearing the shoe below.

The hind leg is evenly balanced.

 

 

 

The Outcome

hind limb lameness in horses

I am pleased to say that this horse has now returned to competing at dressage and continues to go well. It was just a case of seeing him move and shoeing him to compensate for the pressures being exerted on him for which he did not have the physical capabilities to cope with. Over a period of time the amount that the shoe is spiraled may well begin to reduce, the hoof capsule is a very manipulative structure and so has to be addressed each time of shoeing. However the chances of it completely being rectified and not needing some extra help is very unlikely. It is not the idea to just stretch the hoof capsule to the outside thus weakening its integrity just to create a symmetrical appearance.

The most important thing is to always see a horse like this move, horses don’t get problems from standing still, it is when they move and forces are exerted that the true picture is seen!!

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Article written by Ben Pollock.

Ben Pollock’s a specialist when it comes to lameness in horsesBen Pollock Farriery 

Ben is based in The Adelaide Hills, South Australia

 

Comments

  1. Hello Sue-ellen.

    I know nothing about horses, but found the article very interesting.
    Looking at the pictures, I see similarities to foot pronation in humans. .where the ankle “rolls-in”. This leads to rotation of the tibia, which can result in quite severe ankle and knee pain
    Using orthotics in the shoe has the same effect of brining the ankle into the neutral position.
    Great article

    • Hi Doctor Bill,
      I like your perspective about people suffering pain and discomfort from knee or ankle pain. Of course altering the horse shoe is similar to a person wearing orthotics inside their shoes. There are similarities across the board with horses and humans :)
      Cheers

      Sue-Ellen

  2. Hi Sue-Ellen,

    I have owned a horse (many years ago) and I have never had anyone explain about what Lameness is and how to fix it! Yet after reading Ben Pollock easy to understand information I now get it! How wonderful it is that Ben can watch how a horse moves, and help to fix his walk so that its less painful, the horse can move freely and is able to get back to horse events! Or even just move easily. What a great profession to be in.

    Cheers
    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, Ben has an in depth understanding of bio-mechanics and its such an interesting topic. If I had a lame horse Ben would be the person I would be taking him to see.
      Glad you enjoyed the article :)

      Cheers
      Sue-Ellen

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