Hoof Health effects Your Horse’s Movement & Posture

What does your horse’s movement or posture tell you about hoof health?

Lisa Lancaster Hoof Health

front feet camped too far under the body

The way your horse, moves and stands is related to hoof balance. Pain can cause abnormal stance, which in turn affects hoof balance. For example if a horse has heel pain in the right front, he might point that foot forward, placing a disproportionate weight the left front. This posture compensates for heel pain, but over time can cause new problems such as muscle imbalance in the rest of the body. The abnormal stance can also result in asymmetrical hoof wall growth causing unbalanced hooves.

Hoof balance always needs to be checked if your horse exhibits poor movement. Some horses move well despite a certain level of pain but once back in the stall or pasture, may display signs of discomfort. Since horses spend more time standing than moving (even horses at turnout are in resting posture much of the time) their hoof growth patterns are highly affected by the resting stance they use most often. Therefore, it’s important to notice early clues to future lameness that may be seen in resting posture. You can pick up additional clues by observing movement as well as your horse responds when you pick up each hoof.

Examine the way your horse stands. If you ask him to stand square does he have trouble? Does he point one front foot forward? Is the horse toed in or toed out? Does he have a wide or narrow based stance? Does he stand “parked out” with front limbs placed forward and hind limbs stretched back? Doe he stand with legs camped under? This posture is sometimes called “elephant on a ball” or “goat on a rock”.

Observe your horse’s movement when he is turnout as well as under saddle. Does your horse trip? Land with a toe stabbing gait? Does he take short strides, interfere, or forge? Even if the horse is not limping, subtle gait abnormalities may indicate pain. A veterinary exam should always be done to rule out orthopedic or neurologic problems. In my experience when no cause is found in a routine lameness exam, yet performance limitations persist, I find two types of causes: hoof or Myofascial Pain Dysfunction Syndrome and quite often both problems coexist. If the cause of pain is not removed, eventually it is likely to manifest as lameness. Owners who can identify these signs at the stance phase can often correct them before the problem ever clinically affects the horse’s movement.

Pick up your horses’ hooves to find valuable clues to lameness

Pointing the left front - commonly seen with pain in the heel region

When you pick up a foot, check to see where the horse wants to hold the leg. Lift it gently and wait a moment, feeling for the horse’s own tension to pull the foot where it most naturally wants to hang. You can gather important information from this simple exercise. If the front foot wants to swing under the horse’s belly, this may indicate problems in the pectoral and other muscles around the elbow. If the horse wants to cross a hind leg past the other leg, or can’t pull the hind let out at all and instead drags you under his belly, there may be myofascial problems in the back, hip or stifle. If the horse has trouble holding feet up for the farrier, this may indicate myofascial pain.

Fascia is the fibrous connective tissue connecting and separating muscles as well as organs. Myo means muscle. The term myofascial refers to skeletal muscle and its surrounding fascia. In veterinary medicine more attention is now being turned to myofascial pain as a cause of lameness or poor performance. Conventional diagnostics such as xrays and lower limb nerve blocks are of limited use in diagnosing myofascial pain. Palpating the muscles and moving the limbs and spine through range of motion are the diagnostic tests for myofascial restriction and/or pain. I will cover this in more detail in future blogs when I write about acupuncture.

Next week we will begin to look at parameters of hoof balance.
We will start with the hoof-pastern axis and a common problem called “negative palmar angle.”


Copyright © 2012 ~ Dr. Lisa Lancaster DVM, WDAA Blog Author


Comments are closed.