That is all too often a question that doesn’t get fully explored and can potentially become simplified to is your horse limping? A limping horse is a horse that either has an acute pain issue or potentially is now so sore it cannot walk or trot normally. Lameness is often detected as a head bob, shortness of gait, and pelvic asymmetry and gets graded on a scale of 1-5. Lameness to this degree is often attributed to pain within the legs of the horse.
A problem with soundness can be more subtle then limping and easily overlooked. A horse can be considered “sound” though having performance issues such as not lifting well in their back, difficulty with a proper headset, refusing to jump, lack of drive and impulsion, resisting collection, poor lead changes, and many other issues. If a minor drop or change in performance is not addressed it can lead to a true lameness with obvious limping.
An example could be when a horse’s back hurts. The horse often becomes resistant to lifting their back, tucking their pelvis, and can become heavy on the forehand. If the early signs of back soreness are not addressed it can become a “true” lameness with limping due to compensatory issues. If the drop in performance is not addressed, the heaviness on the forehand could cause forehand limb pain. Frequently the horse is then seen for a front leg lameness were it may receive diagnostic blocks and therapeutic treatments, the lameness is treated and potentially resolved. However, the original cause for the problem is still there which could cause the issue to return or create other issues. In this situation only when the compensatory concerns are addressed true soundness and optimal performance are achieved.
When soundness issues become compounded, it can be difficult to determine if the horse has a training problem, a soundness problem, or a multifaceted lameness. Is the back soreness from the forehand lameness or is the forehand lameness from the back soreness? This is why performance exams are important! Early soreness detection can be crucial in preventing a pain problem from becoming a training problem and vise versa. Early and complete identification can also prevent costly lameness setbacks in your horse’s career.