Mysterious lameness


To Finish Is To Win
11 Years
Jun 8, 2008
NE Michigan
While riding my 17 yr old half-Arab, half-Saddlebred mare yesterday, she stumbled and then started limping. I dismounted, felt her legs and shoulders. While unsaddling her, she stood with her weight balanced nicely on all four legs. Unable to feel any heat or swelling, I gave her a gram of bute and put her back in the pasture.

Today when I brought her up from the pasture, she seemed fine. I trotted her out and she appeared sound. I saddled her up and took her on a short trail ride, trotted occasionally to test her soundness. She did fine. She even galloped down a short stretch of trail. When we arrived back at the stable, I took her into the indoor arena for a few moments to prevent barn sourness. She stumbled (different spot) and began limping again, both ways, though more pronounced to the right. Again THERE IS NO HEAT OR SWELLING OR ANY PAIN DETECTED!!

What could this be?
It could be an early sign of arthritis. I had a 13.2hh (big-barrelled) pony ("Toma") who gradually lost his front legs (as far as riding him was concerned) around 18-20 years of age. I first noticed it when he was jumping. He caught his front foot, fell and broke the cavalletti. Then he tripped on an incline on a trail ride out west. DD was fine, but a can of Spam died. He wasn't constantly tripping, just once in awhile. The sad thing was, after he retired he STILL wanted to be trailered and ridden. (He lived to a ripe old age of 35, however.)

BTW, we bought him at 15 yrs. old at an auction, and he had been part of a trail riding stable--people used to race around on rented horses.

I am sure that your Vet could give you a better assessment.
Any chance of a thorn in the frog? They can be pretty tiny and break off, leaving the tip. Maybe soaking the foot to soften the tissue and get it super clean so you can see?
It would be worth an exam by a *good* soundness vet, if you have one around (they are unfortunately a bit hard to find IME, as opposed to vets who will happily spend all your money doin' different things but don't really have any particular clue of their own). Alternatively I would ride her lightly and gently for the next few weeks and see what happens. If it starts happening more frequently then even an "enh" vet would be worth consulting, if that's all you have.

One possibility is that she stepped on a rock and bruised herself. This could go away on its own, or turn into an abscess later on (not a big deal, just soak and poultice and let it heal). This is what you want it to be

However, what you describe is often the first signs of various kinds of soreness, ranging from "navicular syndrome" in the broad sense of the term (somewhat a catchall for a variety of different things that all happen to cause tender heels) to ringbone to trimming/shoeing problems. The horse gets just a little sore in one or more feet, not so's it's obvious in normal movement but so that if he steps on something the wrong way it makes him go Ow where a sound horse wouldn't.

Because most of those sorts of things are things you'd want to KNOW about and take into account when making decisions about riding, horse management, and trimming or shoeing, I think there is a good argument to be made for a *good* thorough lameness exam for a horse that starts stumbling periodically, especially with brief lameness after the stumble. Even if it is "navicular" or ringbone or something like that, it's often manageable once you know what the problem is; but if you don't know, you can't take the necessary steps to help keep the horse sound for as long as possible.

Good luck, have fun,

If it's a bruise, a good soaking in epsom salts is quite soothing. Can be followed by wearing a protective boot (assuming the hoof is CLEAN and dry). I've had some experience with good results, but the soaking and drying was done 2X each day for a few days. I'm sure, by experience, you know it can take up to a week for a bruise to no longer be painful, esp. if you have to walk on it. Hopefpully, that's all it is. Wishing you luck!

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