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Where Damage Occurs & How to Fix it
by Vet Stephen Ashdown


 diagram of common types of arthritis and joint problems in horses



What follows is a brief introduction to horse lameness, a complicated subject. Please send an email to info@globalherbs.co.uk headed ‘Lameness’ with your full name and postal address and we’ll send you an 8-page FREE leaflet entitled ‘Lameness Made Easy’. 

This is a simplified approach, doesn’t aim to cover all aspects of the subject, but will get you started with a positive approach to helping a lame horse.


Lameness occurs when a horse develops a limp - detected by nodding of the head when trotting. 


Bruising or inflammation in (a) joints (b) muscles, (c) tendons/ligaments (d) feet – around the sole and laminae and (e) skin.


Look at the diagram above and you’ll find the location of the likely problem area. Before your vet arrives get a friend to lead your horse around, walking and trotting, and see what it looks like at a distance. It’s a good idea to do this with a normal horse first so as to make a comparison. At a trot a horse’s head will drop i.e. nod when it puts weight on a hind foot that is lame. If a horse is lame in the front leg it will nod its head when it puts its weight on the leg that is sound. A general appreciation of which area of the body is affected will help you get a closer look at a suspicious spot and maybe see if there is a sign of damage that may need quick action.


If you believe you’ve found the troublesome spot and there is a swelling use a cold hose to calm it down; if there is a cut, clean it and use a wound spray. Take great care if you discover a painful spot and wait for your vet. Likewise, if your horse is generally uncomfortable when an affected joint is flexed, get advice.


Joint damage causes arthritis or joint inflammation, and the pain makes the horse lame. Bad arthritis is referred to as DJD or Degenerative Joint Disease. 

Arthritis in the older horse is often blamed on normal wear and tear; but the horse’s self-repair mechanism should enable it to recover of its own accord provided it is able to access the right diet and absorb the necessary nutrients.

However, older horses may not absorb nutrients as well as younger ones and the recommended RDA’s – recommended daily allowances in supplements – may be insufficient.

Many people also fail to appreciate that most pasture in the UK is nutritionally deficient. Add this to the fact that every horse’s dietary requirements is different whether young or old and you have an inherent problem of potential ill health caused by ‘nutritional imbalance’ which can’t be ignored.

The principal problems or affected parts include:

  1. The Navicular Bone in the foot – bone may be wearing away or the surrounding ligaments strained. 
  2. General DJD or Arthritis in the fetlock, coffin and hock.
  3. Ringbone – extra bone growth around edges of joints.
  4. Sidebone – cartilage in the side of the foot becomes harder bone.
  5. Stifle or Knee Cap – tends to get stuck.
  6. Back Problems – include Kissing Spines in which the bones of the back rub together where they shouldn’t; and sacroiliac joints where the hip joins the spine just behind the saddle.
  7. Clicking and Noisy Joints – parts rub together without sufficient lubrication.
  8. Splints – small bone slithers that sit on the inside and outside of each leg at the top of the canon bone and which are attached to the leg by ligaments. These ligaments may become damaged as the result of a kick or a fall and aggravated or swollen.
  9. Windgalls – excess joint fluid indicates a potential joint problem even if the horse isn’t showing any lameness.
  10. OCD – mainly stifle and shoulder. Cartilage inside a joint becomes damaged.
  11. Spavin (bone spavin) – hocks. Very difficult to treat.


When a horse gets a kick or has a fall muscles are bruised and the pain will cause lameness.

The body’s self-healing mechanism gets busy and generally in a few days the damage is repaired.

However, if lameness continues for some time other muscles are affected which are close to those muscles which have been damaged. These muscles shrink from lack of use and can add to the lameness problem.

Back Problems are mostly caused by muscle damage, often as a result of a poorly fitting saddle.


Tendons attach muscles to the horse’s skeleton. When damaged they can cause serious lameness in your horse.


  1. Bruising
  2. Abscesses
  3. Laminae – Please refer to our FREE leaflet entitled ‘Laminitis Made Easy’ and visit our associate website www.laminitis-advice.co.uk 


Mud Fever, caused by specific bacteria, may cause lameness. For more guidance please read these pages - Skin Problems, Mud Fever.


Consult your vet. He will probably prescribe pain killers such as ‘Bute’ and anti-inflammatories. Most drugs, however, have unwelcome side effects if used for two long and may damage the bowel lining, liver and stop the body’s healing mechanism from working well enough; and side effects may not be very easy to spot at first. Although soothing alternatives based on devils claw may help limit the use of drugs they do raise stomach acid levels somewhat and take a long time to produce results. There are, however, many other quick and effective solutions.

To continue your examination of this complicated subject please send for the FREE leaflet entitled LAMENESS MADE EASY and revue our vets comments on the website www.freevetadvice.co.uk .

lameness made easy brochure

Other horse related pages on Hints and Things

Horse Colic

Mud Fever

Skin condition in Horses

Herbs for Horses

Herbal World of the Horse

Moody Mares

Horse Breed/Horse Mating

Stress in Horses

Horse Flies and Biting Insects

Management and Prevention of Sweet Itch





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