Trail Terrors, Part 8: Lameness

Veterinarian Barb Crabbe guides you on the trail -- as you administer first-aid to your lame horse.
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Veterinarian Barb Crabbe guides you on the trail -- as you administer first-aid to your lame horse.

Lameness - What to Watch For:

Sudden, acute lameness; sudden refusal to bear weight on a limb.

Lameness - What's Happening:

If your horse should suddenly become lame, there are a number of possibilities that exist:

  • A rock or other object bruised his sole.
  • A nail punctured his foot.
  • He's strained a tendon, ligament, or other soft-tissue structure.
  • He's fractured a bone.
  • He's suffered a severe wound.

Lameness - What to do:

  • Step 1: Carefully evaluate your horse's lame leg, looking for heat/ swelling, andobvious wounds.
  • Step 2: Check his foot for rocks/ debris; remove any you find.
  • Step 3: If you find a nail, remove it, pulling it straight out--but remember
    exactly where it was located in your horse's foot; your vet will be better
    able to evaluate any resulting complications if he knows where the nail puncture
    occurred. If possible, flush out the nail hole with Betadyne solution, and
    wrap the foot, using a gauze pad, covered by Vetrap or elastic tape.
  • Step 4: If you find any heat/ swelling, apply a support bandage, using the
    sheet cotton, brown gauze, Vetrap, and elastic tape from your first-aid kit.
    If you identify a wound, see Trail Terrors Part 6.
  • Step 5: Administer a dose of phenylbutazone, to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Step 6: If limb instability leads you to suspect a fractured bone (for instance,
    the leg bends where there is no joint), apply a support wrap, and keep your
    horse still. Send your buddy to summon help from a vet.
  • Step 7: If your horse refuses to bear weight on his limb, keep him still;
    send your buddy for help. Continued exercise on a severe injury you could
    cause serious long-term damage.
  • Step 8: If you can, slowly make your way home, resting every 15 minutes--lead
    your horse, don't ride. Immediately summon your vet once home.

Lameness - Risk Factors:

Poorly maintained or rocky trails, uneven terrain, holes in the trail, other factors listed in Trail Terrors Part 6.

Lameness - Preventative Measures:

Choose well-maintained paths--and stay on them.

Don't walk in areas where you can't clearly see the footing.

If you'll be riding over difficult terrain, apply support/ protective boots or bandages to your horse's lower legs. Make sure your horse is properly conditioned for the level of trail riding you plan to undertake. If you're unsure, ask your vet.

Barb Crabbe, DVM, is a contributing editor at Horse & Rider. Her advice can be found monthly in the Horseman's Handbook section of the magazine. She is an Oregon-based equine practitioner.

This article originally appeared in Horse & Rider, May 1994

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