Horses have four legs.
Now, if you want to read a funny joke and learn about simple steps you can take to protect your horse from lameness, keep reading. So, how many legs do horses have?
Infinity. “How?” you may ask.
Horses have an even number of legs.
Behind they have two legs and in front they have forelegs.
This makes six legs, which is certainly an odd number of legs for a horse.
However, six is an even number.
The only number that is both odd and even is infinity.
Therefore, horses have an infinite number of legs.
Ha ha…. Very funny. Of course, horses only have four legs.
It’s a simple fact, but have you ever stopped to consider the true complexity and importance of a horse’s legs?
The horse’s sturdy yet nimble legs are what allows it to complete so many different types of tasks of both equestrian and agrarian descent.
Unfortunately, over time a horse’s legs can break down and become less agile. As the horse continues his daily routine, this wear and tear eventually becomes painful. Horses can then start accommodating this new pain by limping, developing a subtle change in gait, or by refusing to perform.
This condition is called lameness. Accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars in losses every year for the equine industry, lameness affects horses of all breeds and ages.
But lameness is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Some horses will only develop subtle lameness resulting in a small reduction in performance while others may become debilitated and ultimately require euthanasia.
How Does Lameness Occur in Horses?
Lameness is usually the product of pain within a limb, but it may also come from mechanical issues that are inhibiting limb movement. It can result from pain coming from any part of a limb that contains nerve endings. Unfortunately, this means that many types of lameness cannot be detected by observing a horse’s gait.
With that said, the only surefire way to diagnose lameness in a horse is to have it formally inspected by a trained veterinarian. Having a lameness exam conducted is a multi-step process and usually consists of: a historical overview, a standing exam, a moving exam, a test of the horse’s flexion and hooves, diagnostic anesthesia, and imaging of the site of injury.
What Happens in a Lameness Exam?
A lameness exam will be conducted by your veterinarian.
First, the vet will want to know when the lameness was first noticed, how severe it is, how it occurred if known, and other important questions.
Then, a standing exam will be conducted from a distance to observe the horse’s conformation and appearance. After this a closer examination will take place, only this time the vet will look for specific evidence of swelling, heat, and pain.
An in-motion exam follows the stationary exam. The moving exam will mostly focus on the horse’s trot and may involve inclines, declines, or your horse being directed to move in certain patterns.
The vet would then proceed with a flexion exam by deliberately putting specific joints or regions of the limb under stress. Then, the horse’s lameness would be assessed again after the pressure has been applied.
Hooves are also be tested in a similar matter by applying a pincer-like tool to put pressure on specific regions of the foot to search for a pain response to determine the cause of the lameness.
If the source is still undetermined, the vet may utilize nerve blocking. This process involves the vet administering drugs to block the pain response in a particular area. For example, if the Vet surmises that the problem is in the hoof, he will inject pain blocking drugs into the hoof/fetlock area and then observe the horse trotting. If the horse trots sound or much improved, then indeed the source of the pain/infection IS in the hoof area because the drugs have blocked the the nerves in this area and hence deadened nerve and subsequently the pain. If not, then the “deadening” process is repeated until the lameness is visibly lessened which will lead to diagnosis of the area afflicted by pain
Finally, the vet will likely use some combination of x-rays, ultrasound, CT, MRI, or thermal imaging to view the structures in the area and gather additional information about the injury.
How Do You Treat Lameness in Horses?
The most appropriate treatment for a horse suffering from lameness is largely dependent on the exact diagnosis they receive. Examples of treatments used to address multiple types of lameness diagnoses include:
Joint injections of steroids to reduce inflammation and pain
Oral or injectable anti-inflammatories and pain relievers to manage multiple pain sources, treat chronic pain, or as a supplement
Surgery, usually arthroscopic surgery, to repair the joint surface through tiny incisions
Cutting-edge therapies including pulsed extra-corporeal shockwave, stem cell injections, plasma injection, IRAP, and others.
How Do You Prevent Lameness in Horses?
The frequency with which a horse develops lameness and its severity can both greatly be reduced by just following a few easy-to-remember rules.
The first is to remember to put brushing or splint boots on your horse if they’re going to participate in any high-intensity exercise. Padded boots can also offer your horse’s leg’s muscles and tendons some much-needed support.
Try to limit your horse from walking excessively on hard ground.. Walking on hard ground causes concussion in your horse’s legs which can cause arthritis or, at the very least, tension and tightness throughout their legs.
Remember to also check your horse’s legs daily. Run your hand up and down their legs for lumps, bumps, cavities, injuries, or other abnormalities that may warrant follow-up. Make sure you’re also scheduling your farrier to trim or shoe your horse every 4-6 weeks. If your horse does have lameness issues, a quality farrier should be able to craft special, therapeutic shoes that will assist with extra support for your horse. And listen to farriers—read reputable horse magazines or follow reputable websites to educate yourself regarding best practices for your horse and the best way to maintain him/her. Always be an advocate for your horse.
You can also consult with your vet about giving your horse supplements like glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin sulfate, or hyaluronic acid to help keep your horse healthy, agile and strong. If your horse is a stall-kept horse, make sure that he/she gets exercise and/or turnout every single day.
We hope you found this article helpful and if your horse ever gets any cuts, abrasions, scratches or white line disease, we hope you keep Banixx Horse & Pet Care in mind. For more information on how to keep your horse happy and healthy, visit our horse page.