The impact of lameness

The impact of lameness

Lameness in horses represents one of the major areas in horse pathology, and one of the main reasons for seeking advice from an equine veterinary surgeon. All types of horse are affected, from hacks to racehorses…

To quote a few figures :

  • A racehorse spends about a tenth of its working life resting or convalescing: 65% of these temporary interruptions to its working life are due to locomotor problems.
  • More than half of all sporting horses and racehorses will see their working life come to an end because of a locomotor problem or chronic lameness.
  • Furthermore, locomotor disorders are the second main cause of mortality in the horse in Europe, the first being digestive problems (represented mainly by colic).

Thus not only fractures, but also joint problems, laminitis (etc.) are responsible for 10% of deaths every year.

 Locomotor problems are often the cause of severe pain, which generates serious lameness. However, depending on the site of the damage and the intensity of the pain caused, locomotor disorders can have less obvious clinical manifestations. Locomotor disorders thus generate symptoms of very variable intensity:

 Pain and discomfort, which are manifested by an irregular or asymmetric gait, may be disabling for racehorses or competition horses: lameness of this type can in fact impair performance in competition horses.


 Impaired performance, indicative of a reduction in the physical abilities of the competition horse, is a source of much frustration for the rider or trainer. Furthermore, understanding why a horse starts to under-perform is a real diagnostic challenge: although locomotor problems represent the main cause of loss of performance, many other conditions, affecting the respiratory, cardio-vascular and other systems may also be involved.

Clinical lameness, which is obvious and clearly visible, which stops a horse from competing or even training, is the most obvious manifestation of a locomotor disorder, and is disabling even for a horse used only for hacking.

Finally, catastrophic disorders, such as fractures on the racecourse, can indicate bone damage that had gone undetected. The outcome of an accident of this type is often dramatic…

Lameness is the pet hate of the horse rider or trainer, it is always difficult to diagnose, and treatment is often long-term. All too often, lameness in a competition horse is synonymous with stopping work, preventing the horse from racing or competing for a period of time. Losses on a sporting and financial level are all the greater as even training is generally prohibited: the horse then loses physical condition and regresses in its work.

 Finally, for the owner of a horse kept for hacking, it is terribly frustrating to see his horse "laid up" for what often proves to be an undetermined period of time…