South Shore Equine Clinic & Diagnostic Center
Equine Veterinary Services South Shore Boston Massachusetts

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My horse has been lame for over 2 years. Nobody can seem to find out what the problem is. Any suggestions?


Lameness is by far the most common cause of inadequate performance in the horse. The majority of horses currently in training have experienced lameness at one time or another. Accurate diagnosis of lameness requires a comprehensive understanding of equine anatomy and a methodical approach to examination. Causes of lameness can be divided into two categories: primary causes and secondary causes. Primary causes represent abnormalities that did not occur as a result of another problem. Foot abscesses, acute fractures, soft tissue injury (e.g. from trauma) and some forms of arthritis are common primary causes of lameness. Secondary causes of lameness are present as a consequence of one or more other problems. Laminitis, stress fractures, and soft tissue inflammation (e.g. myositis or desmitis) are common examples of secondary causes of lameness. They occur as a result of the horse’s compensating for a primary cause of pain. Although treating secondary causes of lameness often improves the horse’s performance, they will recur and lameness will persist as long as the primary cause(s) of lameness goes untreated. It therefore behooves both the horse and client to accurately diagnose the primary problem(s) as soon as possible. Once the primary lameness is eliminated, all secondary problems should disappear.

A complete understanding of the horse’s anatomy, conformation, gait, and intended use(s) are essential in determining an accurate diagnosis. A proper lameness examination should include 1) conformation evaluation, 2) passive lameness evaluation, and 3) active lameness evaluation. Performing a lameness examination is much like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. There is always 1 piece that makes everything else fit!