Bilateral Heel Lameness

Horse Illustrated | 2007

Q. Hello Bob, my name is Frederick Gierisch. I recently purchased 2 U.S. Calvary Ceremonial Horses. One was diagnosed with a 4-year history of grade 2-3 chronic bilateral forelimb lameness. The lameness was localized to the heel regions by perineural anesthesia (navicular region). The horse was treated with corrective shoeing. Radiographs taken in June 2006 show no bony changes at that time. The horse is a beautiful 10-year old sorrel American Quarter horse. He is a very stocky built horse. I have not been able to get copies of his radiographs or vet history but I am trying. The horse has been on rest for the last 6-months. I have only had the horse a week.

He walks perfect and trots o.k. but at a gallop he starts a little bucking. Could this be because he is in pain at a gallop.

I am working him in a very sandy arena, not on a hard surface. I only lunged him one time so far and he seemed to gallop both directions o.k. I purchased the horse so he would have a good home and as a pleasure riding horse. Will I need to keep corrective shoeing on him for riding around the ranch?

I do not want to injure him, what will he be capable of without further injury. How will I know if the U.S. farrier put the right corrective shoeing on him?

He is only shoed on the front feet right now. The carrier said to place a pad under the shoe and set it back about 1/8 inch from normal position. Does this sound correct for a treatment?

I am in a small isolated town and have only local shoers in the area. I am not sure if they are familiar with corrective shoeing and if they are competent. What would you suggest?

Is this something I can learn and try myself?

A. Hello Frederick.

Your question is very common. A horse with an undiagnosed lameness can be very frustrating. There are many 'experts' that will be happy to give advice on any number of equine subjects, lamenesses in particular. You can go crazy trying to help your horse by listening to folks whose professional training is "I've been around horses a long time." I have been around televisions, automobiles and women my whole life. But I do not profess to be an expert in any of those subjects. You should limit your considerations to the opinions of those who have had professional training and education.

As farriers we do not diagnosis lameness in horses. I would also caution you to avoid farriers that try to convince you that they can diagnosis your horse's lameness. Diagnosing lameness is the responsibility of a veterinarian. Farriers do not have the training or diagnostic tools necessary to conduct a lameness exam on your horse.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has defined the grades of equine lameness in the following manner.

Grade 0: Lameness not perceptible under any circumstances.

Grade 1: Lameness is difficult to observe and is not consistently apparent, regardless of circumstances (e.g., weight carrying, circling, inclines, hard surfaces, etc.)

Grade 2: Lameness is difficult to observe at a walk or when trotting in a straight line but consistently apparent under certain circumstances (e.g., weight carrying, circling, inclines, hard surfaces, etc.)

Grade 3: Lameness is constantly observable at a trot under all circumstances.

Grade 4: Lameness is obvious at a walk.

Grade 5: Lameness produces minimal weight bearing in motion and/or at rest or a complete inability to move.

The cause of some heel pain can be very difficult to find. Radiographs did not show bony changes, which is a good thing. Once a radiograph shows changes in the bone structure there isn't much that a veterinarian or experienced therapeutic farrier can do for your horse. There are seventeen ligaments inside the horse's hoof. Anyone of them can be injured and create a long-term lameness.

It is unreasonable to say that the local farriers may not be competent or knowledgeable to shoe your horse. You purchased a horse with a long history of lameness and now you are putting the responsibility of 'fixing' your horse on a farrier. When a local farrier is unable to resolve this long- term, non-descript heel lameness he/she is considered incompetent.

Because of your location (a small isolated town), it appears that you will have to transport your horse to a veterinarian clinic where a good equine practitioner can perform an in-depth evaluation of your horse's lameness. Ask for a detailed, written shoeing prescription that you can give to a local farrier. Ask that the shoeing prescription contain the size of shoe, type of shoe, angle and toe length for the front fee, and any other information that will assist a local farrier to properly shoe your horse.

You ask if there is something that you can do yourself and I assume that is in regards to your horse's feet. I know that the barefoot, trim your own horse, fad is popular but to me, that would be similar to saying that you only want to work on your children's teeth so why go to dental school. I would advise that you develop a relationship with a vet and farrier and let them work on your horse.

I am sympathetic to you and your horse but the reality of the situation is that you may have a lame horse forever. The inability of farriers and veterinarians to cure your horse should not reflect negatively on their professionalism. A 4-year history of a grade 2-3 chronic bilateral forelimb lameness will not be a simple matter of following a truck driver's advice. I wish you and your horse luck.