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Are You Missing Unsoundness or Compensatory Locomotion in Your Horse?

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

Studies Have Shown that Most Horse Owners and Many Horse Professionals Are Unable to See Lameness and Gait Abnormalities that Horses Adopt when They Are in Pain or Experiencing Poor Function or Restricted Movement.


Head-Bobbing Lame is Only One Side of the Story


Some lameness is very obvious. We can all recognize when our horse is limping. When a horse favors a leg, that usually indicates acute pain in the limb or foot. It's usually a specific injury, or disease, and is likely to be isolated to one area.


No Limp Doesn't Mean No Pain


Horses have amazing bodies. If one area isn't functioning well or hurts, they can transfer the workload to another area of the body. For example, a horse with back pain can shift more weight onto his pelvis or use his hamstrings to lift his hind legs instead of swinging them forward in an effort to avoid activating his back muscles. We do the same thing when our back hurts. We shorten our stride, or if our leg is hurting, we put more weight onto the heathy leg.


From Worse to Worser


Now we have two problems, an injured l or painful area and another party of the body that's being overloaded. Over time, damage can occur to the healthy part of the body that use working harder to compensate for the injured area.


What Are the Signs


It takes a trained eye to identify the abnormalities in mobility and gait that these issues create, but changes in posture and even behavior can be clues that something is up.


Look for signs like:


  • Ears rotated back for longer than a few seconds

  • Pinned ears

  • Reaction or avoidance when saddled

  • Decrease in willingness to move forward

  • Reluctance to being caught

  • Reduced performance

  • Difficultly picking up a lead

  • One-sidedness

  • Bucking, kicking out, rearing

  • Head tossing

  • Pulling or leaning on the reins

  • Reluctance to lift one or more feet


How to Help


If your horse is exhibiting one or more if these signs, it's time to do some detective work. Start with a complete physical assessment by your veterinarian. Then employ the services of someone educated in gait and functional analysis to get a deeper look at cause and effect.


Once issues have been identified, it's time to restore comfort and function. That can include systematic rehabilitation, but it's also important to include tack, hoof and dental balance/function, diet, and making sure that riding and exercise is being done in a way that's beneficial to your horse.


Nothing is better than seeing a horse with issues be restored to his happiest, healthiest, and best version of himself. Go to my SERVICES page for more information about my evaluation and rehabilitation services and to schedule a Wellness Assessment for your horse.

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