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Idiopathic front limb Lameness in Horses

Have you ever seen this or know someone who is struggling with this problem?

Intermittent front limb lameness or "Idiopathic" Hopping in Horses.

Idiopathic hopping refers to the "unknown" or "unexplained" body habit a horse might do, with no "cause" and is a term which some Veterinarians use.

My train of thought ...

Why would a horse just start hopping infront?

Do you think they just decide that if they start nodding they will get out of work?!

Horses do not think like this!

They are honest beings who really want to please us.

Yes, I would agree that some horses enjoy certain types of work more than others, but one could question whether we just haven't found the exercise they really enjoy...?!

Relate this back to you... If you asked 10 people if they all love running, I am pretty sure you would get different opinions!

Why would it be any different with horses?

Many of these so-called "unknown front limb lameness" are exacerbated because of human intervention! I've come across many horse owners, that say this:

"It's so frustrating, I watch my horse trot in the field with no head nod, turning tight circles and playing with their field mates.

Then when I bring them into the arena, trot a circle with or without tack on, they start head nodding!

The flexion tests and even a bone scan was inclusive! The Vets and I are stunned and at a loss!"

Do you know anyone who is going through this?

So what is the cause of this "unknown" cause of lameness in horses?

A study carried out by Dr Dyson summarised this unknown front limb lameness as:

“Idiopathic hopping-type lameness syndrome in ridden horses may be a pain-related condition ± a neurological component and currently has a guarded prognosis.”

If you study the anatomy of the horse and understand that form equals function you can start to build an appreciation and awareness of the complex interrelated mechanisms of your horse’s body. I like to keep things simple though and relate studying the horse’s anatomy like a painting. Each stroke and colour you apply to that painting will have an effect on the overall effect of the masterpiece. Now, if we relate this to the unfortunate common ways of investigating and diagnosing lamenesses in horses. I’m sure you either know or have had personal experience of investigating a “mysterious” lameness with your horse that despite all the nerve blocks, bone scans and limb x-rays, your horse is no better. The key to that sentence was “limb”. Many horse’s that go in for lameness investigation, are assessed from the knee or stifle down to the hoof.

My question is what about the rest of the body?

When we ride our horses, we ride the body of the horse, not the limbs. I’m going to say that again, we ride the body of the horse, not the limbs. So why are we not spending more time figuring out what is happening through the body of the horse? What if we changed the wording from “unknown/ intermittent front limb lameness” to “unknown body lameness”. For me this opens up more opportunities, because the body of the horse has so many wonderful interconnected systems. As a bodyworker, this is exciting!

Horses with this “unknown” body lameness display changes in their walk, short stride length and almost “funky” (sorry, but not sorry for the term).

Other signs include:

  • Girthy

  • Discomfort when being tacked up

  • Change of gait around a corner or bend

  • Uncomfortable when the rider got on.

  • Odd flick of the toe when it lands on the ground

  • Rearing

  • Bolting

  • Restricted cranial and caudal phase of the front limb

If you are reading the above and only agree with one of the points, please note that the symptoms of this lameness are vast!

After doing some research, I came across a Veterinarian called Audrey DeClue who has spent years recognising the same patterns of body compensation in performance horses. Dr DeClue, being a Vet with an array of diagnostic equipment and most of all, an open mind with a determination to understand what horse’s are trying to tell us, has called this “unknown front limb body lameness” Dorsal Scapular Disorder. If you want to find out more about her and the pioneering research she is doing into the treatment of shivers and string-halt, visit her website attached below:

Now, I’m not saying she is 100% accurate in her diagnosis of Dorsal Scapular disorder, as many professionals will argue that there is no research supporting her work. My thought process here is, just because there are no scientific papers published YET, it doesn't mean that it doesn’t exist!! For me it is about thinking outside the box. I am hearing too many stories about horses being misdiagnosed or despite passing a five stage Vetting six months, the horse is now lame in 3 legs with kissing spines!

My take home message to all of you lovely horse lovers, is to remain curious, always ask questions and speak up for your horse.

With Love


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