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What is the NUMBER 1 cause of lameness in Performance horses?

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.

Why would a horse just start hopping in-front?

Do you think they just decide that if they start head nodding they will get out of work?! Horses do not think like this way! 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 cause's this "unknown" cause of lameness in horses?

It goes back to the NUMBER 1 cause of lameness in Performance horses, PAIN caused by EQUIPMENT.

Are you surprised?

Think about it, most of us spend 90% of our time riding our horses. We invest 1000's of pounds into different saddles, bridles, boots, girths and numnahs. The sad truth though, is that the research on all these different types of equipment is limited, despite the saddle company promising you that research has been done. The reality with this "research" which the tack companies are not sharing with you, is that the research is either done on a very small number of horses (not relatable to your horse's breed, age and conformation), or that there is a a bias in the methodology to make their tack come out on top. I'm being very generic here and the good news is that more and more research is being done, but the sad truth is that we are very much behind compared to veterinary orthopaedic research.

If you are interested in the research review on 3x different saddle widths on the mechanics of the equine spine during canter, please click on the link below:

So, just to review what I've said so far, PAIN is the number one cause of lameness in Performance horses. If you type this into google, you will see that the results highlight pain and lameness is caused by an issue from either the knee down or the stifle down to the hoof in horses.

Now, I'm going to to disagree with this statement and based on my experience as a therapist and rider, the focus when it comes to diagnosing a lameness is steered towards the limb of your horse. Why is this? It's like the rest of the body doesn't exist? I'm going to question the rationality and logic within my own profession and how they currently try and solve problems.

Remember there is always a solution to a problem and our horses are honest beings that are always communicating with us.


Many times it's the approach that you take in solutions to problems versus problem solving.

If we came together as a profession, as the Vet, the therapist, the farrier, the saddler, dentist and listened to one another (as the specialist in that field) and ask questions from you the owner, while assessing the ENTIRE body of the horse, I 100% believe and know that we would not have as many misdiagnosed lame horses.

Why don't we assess the horses we are trying to help, with their tack on?

It's probably because we don't really understand the equipment and then what effect it will have on our horse's and their bodies. Sad, but true. Every week, I come across some new saddle and girth that an owner has bought for their horse and I'm asked to give my opinion on whether it fits or not. This is my response:

"I am not a trained saddle fitted and unfortunately there is not enough valid repeatable scientific support into the use of this equipment on your horse's body. I am happy to have a look for you and my assessment will be based on watching your horse's behaviour and body mechanics change in each gait."

My take home message for you reading this today, is to listen and watch your horse's. I don't care what any professional says (including myself), your horse will never lie. Here are my top tips for assessing your horse:

  • Stand your horse on level ground and take full body images of them. Ask yourself if there are any asymmetries.

  • Watch your horse is all gaits (walk, trot and canter) in a straight line and then on the lunge.

  • Repeat the process above and add the saddle on. Are there any changes in your horse's behaviour and movement?

  • Repeat the process above and this time add a rider. Are there any changes in your horse's behaviour and movement?

It's that simple folks!

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me:

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