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Understanding Lameness

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

When your horse is not performing at his best taking a holistic view is the way to find the cause and suitable treatment. Discussing the issues you are having with your core support team that includes your vet, farrier and therapist can all help you find the best solution for your horse’s comfort and well-being.



One of the most common issues that affects horses is lameness, this describes anything that causes an irregularity or unevenness of the gait. Often, it’s linked to pain within the limb, or in the musculoskeletal system. However, there’s also mechanical lameness, this is when there’s an abnormality of gait but not necessarily pain. Lameness isn’t always easy to recognise as the signs can be subtle, and there are numerous causes.


Recognising lameness

As well as the head nod that’s seen when a horse is lame in one front limb, a shortening in stride may also been seen. There are also much more subtle things to look out for such as a reduction in performance or a change in behaviour. All horses are different and react differently to pain so understanding that these more subtle changes may indicate that your horse is not comfortable is important for his welfare.


Hindlimb lameness can be trickier to identify. Watching the point of hip can help. It will move up and down a lot more on the lame side as the horse tries to take weight off the lame leg.


Hindlimb lameness was one of the topics that will be covered by Jessica Kidd at the Horses Inside Out Conference in February 2023. Her presentation also covered equine neck, back and hindlimb pathologies, lameness treatment and diagnosis.


Jessica is a consultant surgeon who works with equine practices throughout the UK. Her areas of expertise are orthopaedic and soft tissue surgery as well as lameness investigations and associated imaging modalities. She is an RCVS and European Recognised Specialist in Equine Surgery.


Jessica always wanted to be a vet but her path to becoming an equine vet wasn’t what many would consider conventional.

“I've never owned a horse and I think there’s definitely a conception that in order to be a good equine vet, you have to have grown up with horses,” says Jessica.

“I’ve always loved horses and I was very fortunate to go to one of the US vet schools that at the time had what was called a tracking programme where I could stack my clinical rotations to do almost exclusively horse rotations.”

It was during her training for the MRCVS exam that Jessica realised that surgery was where she wanted to specialise and what she has done for many years.


"I count myself very fortunate because I spend all day with horses of different shapes and sizes and try to help both the horses and the owners find solutions to surgical and orthopaedic problems." Jessica Kidd

High Expectations

When it comes to orthopaedic surgery there are higher expectations placed on horses. “Horses in general are a completely different kettle of fish compared to other animals such as dogs,” says Jessica. “You can have a dog that's had major orthopaedic surgery, and it's considered acceptable that the dog has a limp for the rest of his life. That's not considered acceptable in horses and so I would say that the bar is set a lot higher - in terms of expectations, we have more to attain because our ultimate aim is not just a sound horse, it's a sound horse that can perform to the level or the discipline that it was intended to do.”



Diagnostic tools


Jessica feels that the use of diagnostic tools has helped hugely and gives vets the ability to see more and make more accurate diagnosis. However, she believes that there’s still so much more to understand.

“The downside to all the new diagnostic tools we have at our disposal is the innate temptation to bypass the things that every case should have - collecting a good history on the patient and carrying out a very good clinical examination. It can be very tempting to now just send a horse for an MRI or a CT. By doing this you lose the ability of clinical inspection and our ability to do a decent physical examination and then to try to relate the biomechanics and the anatomy and the pathology and try and put together a bigger picture.”


Team Work

Jessica also stresses the importance of the support team around every horse and how they all play an enormous role in getting a horse back to full health again.

“I always feel that it should be a team approach. Whether you’re a vet, a farrier, a physio we all have an input and everybody can bring something to the party. With a team of good professionals working alongside you, you're stacking the odds in your favour that the outcome is going to be better than if you worked in isolation.”


Jessica Kidd was just one of an amazing line up of guest speakers at the Horses Inside Out Conference - Upwards and Onwards 18 and 19 February 2023. If you're keen to improve your knowledge on topics such as equine movement, bridle fit, nutrition, horse's hoof health, dentistry and much more you need to join us on teh next one.


You can come along in person or join our live streaming so you can watch from home.



If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in the online seminar Recognising Pain Related Poor Performance.



In this video Gillian interview's Jessica to find out more about her background and principles when it comes to lameness.



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