How to detect a lameness?

The horse is of all animals the one most exposed to lameness. Particularly feared, owners and riders are not always able to detect them in time.

These affections can quickly damage the quality of life and impair the horse’s performance. As a result, Seaver has developed a tool to aid lameness detection.

Let’s start with some definitions.

What is a lameness?

A lameness is not a disease but an anomaly of posture or displacement usually caused by a discomfort or pain in a limb. Also called claudication, the lameness prevents the proper continuity of the movement. When a horse is lame, he transfers his weight to another limb to relieve the afflicted one, causing thus a movement asymmetry.

There are several reasons for lameness in horses. It can manifest following a shock, resulting in swelling. In this case, the lameness is benign and can disappear after a few days. It is also possible that a pebble slipped into the horn making the support painful. The intervention of the veterinarian or farrier is then essential. The lameness can also be explained by pain in one of the limbs. The latter may be pathological such as osteoarthritis or navicular disease, for example, or result from a straining or tendonitis. An appropriate treatment is then required to ensure the proper recovery of the animal. The origin of a lameness can also come from higher, especially the kneecap, the stifle or the shoulders.
As a rule, if the lameness is due to a skeletal, joint or foot injury, it will be pronounced on “hard” ground. Conversely, if it is due to a muscular or tendinous lesion, it will be more pronounced on "soft" ground. It is essential to identify the place and causes of pain to properly cure the lameness.

How to detect it?

• With you Seaver girth

As mentioned above, when a horse is lame, he tends to carry less weight on the afflicted limb to lessen the pain. Seaver measures the weight distribution per leg, which will allow you to detect a problem in early stages. In order to do this, the tool compares the up-and-down movement and the left-to-right movement of the torso of the horse during the placement of each limb on the ground.

By definition, a sound horse moving in a straight line and on a flat surface should have symmetrical movements. He bears the same weight on the left forelimb as the right forelimb and the same applies for the hind limbs. It’s evident that this rule only applies to symmetrical gaits that is to say walk and trot.

A threshold of approximately 25% movement asymmetry is suggested to detect a problem, meaning that a horse putting 25% less weight on one limb compared to the contralateral limb might have a problem. However, it is important to notice that a movement asymmetry does not indicate a lameness in all cases. Other factors have to be taken into account such as a bad posture of the rider, a bad positioning of the saddle or a saddle not adapted to the horse. When in doubt, it is better to consult a veterinarian.

For more information on the movement symmetry, take a look at our article in association with Camille Judet Cheret, professional dressage rider: ici

An abnormal increase in heart rate for the same training intensity may also be a sign of lameness. Thanks to the electrodes placed inside the girth, Seaver records the heart rate of your horse in real time. Thus, you will be able to quickly spot an abnormality and anticipate the first signs of lameness.

If you are not sure of yourself, no need to panic we’ve got you covered. The Seaver girth is equipped with an alarm system. Thus, notifications will be sent to you on your mobile application to warn you of a possible lameness.

• Via a visual examination

Lameness can also be confirmed visually. For that, it is necessary to observe the horse moving on a flat ground, in a straight line, from the front, the side and the back, walking and trotting.

In case of a front limb lameness, the head and neck will tend to rise suddenly when the sore limb leans on the ground and to go down when the sound limb hits the ground.
Left front limb lameness ©Laurence Grard-Guenard
In case of a hind limb lameness, this is slightly different. The hip tend to rise when the sore limb leans on the floor and to go down when the sound limb hits the ground.

The Seaver team

24th April 2017