CASE STUDY: Lameness

Intermittent lameness is not the most dreaded equine diagnosis among horse owners, but it is probably in the top three because of the frustration it creates in both horse and owner.  The horse may be able to work during periods of soundness but any attempt at consistent training or competition is typically derailed by a lameness flare which may occur unpredictably.  It is especially stressful in a younger horse who should be in the vibrantly well prime of his or her life.

After struggling for a year with unsoundness, Mo’s owner brought him to a clinic here at Four Oaks Equine in October 2023. 

Mo is a 9 year old OTTB who raced 32 times over five years.  At purchase he was underweight and under-muscled.  His owner was told he had an injury to his right front at the track but the nature of the injury was not disclosed.  The attending vet believed he had a hairline fracture that was not rehabbed correctly and had caused some joint calcification. Radiographs suggested arthritis in the fetlock, navicular abnormalities, and (to my eye) some possible inflammatory bone remodeling.  Mo also had incomplete range of motion in that foot.  His owner reported that the lameness worsened with too little work, too much work, or if stalled — a classic pattern with arthritic joints.

Mo presented as a beautifully conformed, bright and alert young gelding in excellent body condition.  His right fetlock appeared thickened from chronic inflammation.  His hoof quality was poor and his hoof angles were seriously imbalanced.  Unbalanced feet create issues for all horses but in horses with compromised feet the imbalance constantly stresses the damaged areas of the foot, promoting and sustaining the cycle of inflammation and pain.  Improper angles also compromise hoof growth because of stress on the coronary band; this stress can make it difficult for horses to grow adequate heel, perpetuating the long toe-crushed heel shape.

To fix Mo’s lameness, we needed to address his foot balance, his hoof quality, and the inflammation in his foot. 

He was referred for corrective farrier work — his owner reported that his comfort steadily improved as his feet were brought into balance.

Poor hoof quality is common among OTTBs but is readily addressable with targeted supplementation.  The belief that a thoroughbred cannot grow a good foot is a myth; they can but they often require more and slightly different nutritional support than do other breeds.  Mo’s nutritional program included OTTB-specific foot support and his hoof quality quickly and steadily improved.

The chronically inflamed foot was the hard part.  Fixing deeply entrenched inflammatory conditions in the foot requires optimizing blood flow, quieting inflammatory cascades, reducing internal scarring, promoting abnormal bone resorption, and encouraging the body to stop arthritic progression.  That required specific supplements that all work well together but that all work differently.  It also requires patience.  The body can repair old damage — but it needs time…. This program was begun.

Fast forward to April 2024 and a handsome young gelding stands festooned in his ribbons.  A horse who easily could have been cast away as unsalvageable was reclaimed because of his owner’s determination.  And patience… perfect timing as Mo turns 10 and now is truly in his prime of life.

Mo at purchase in August 2022. He is underweight, under-muscled, and hoof quality is extremely poor.
Mo in June 2023; he has put on weight but hoof quality remains poor and he continues to be chronically lame.
Mo in April 2024, healthy and sound.

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