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

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Questions & Answers

Question:

  • Why does my horse "slap" one of his back feet on the ground at a walk?

Answer:

The slapping of the back foot is often referred to as "goose stepping". This characteristic gait abnormality is specific for fibrotic or ossifying myopathy of one or more of the hamstring muscles on the back of the pelvic limb, which include the semitendinosis, semimembranosis, and biceps femoris groups. The semitendinosis muscles is most commonly affected. Pelvic limb myopathies are most frequently observed in Quarter Horses, due to the type of work they perform.

Normally, the hamstring muscles move independently of each other and are able to stretch very easily when the limb is extended cranially (out in front). However, trauma in the form of muscle strain/tearing (resulting from hyperextension of the pelvic limb) or reaction to intramuscular injection results in the development of scar (fibrotic) tissue within the muscle(s). The scar tissue organizes, matures, and contracts, creating a "rope-like" band where there was once normal pliable muscle tissue. The lack of elasticity of the scar tissue causes the pelvic limb to be pulled caudally (backward) before the full length of the stride is reached. The foot "slaps" the ground as a consequence.

Fortunately, this problem is very easy to treat, and carries a good prognosis. Treatment involves a minor surgical procedure that is performed with the horse standing/sedated and the area locally anesthetized. Scar tissue is transected through a 1-to-2-inch incision along the back of the leg. Most horses can return to normal work after 3-4 weeks.