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Understanding the Abnormal Gait

It is not uncommon for a horse to knock its back legs; yet, because this may result in lameness or hurtful cuts and bumps, it is a frustrating occurrence to horse owners. When observing such injuries on the insides of the pastern or perhaps fetlock, it is most likely that the inside of the hind hoof is actually consistently striking that very area.
Known as hind limb interference, this occurrence may be only temporary – such as is the case in ill-shod horses, or those who are tired, unfit, and not yet appropriately trained - yet in extreme cases it may also be permanent, especially if the horse is ill-conformed.

This kind of abnormality is oftentimes observed in horses which are classified as base narrow and that have outturning hooves. When exercising your animal at a trot, you will be able to watch the gait and its effect on the horse’s limbs. Rather than moving straight ahead, the
hind hoof will curve inward and aim toward the other hind leg. If your horse is cow-hocked, the same inward winging may occur, but because the hind limbs are further apart, you will not notice any bumps or cuts. If you are still unsure about how your horse is affected, stand behind it to measure the inward pattern on the affected leg.

Hind Limb InterferenceGenerally speaking, when such an animal’s hind hoof touches the ground, the hock itself will be caused to move at and outward arch which in turn proves that there is a lack of stability, which may cause the interference. Affected base narrow horses – as well as those classified as cow-hocked – will evidence rear hooves that roll off as they bear weight, which then permits the inside of the hoof to amble toward the inside of the other hind leg.

If your horse only suffers from a temporary gait problem, you will be able to resolve the issue with some time and patience. Proper training and strengthening of the hind muscles will gradually help the animal to limit its interference. Conversely, if the shoes of the horse are too small, this may be corrected by re-shoeing the horse with properly fitting shoes. To protect the fetlocks against further injury until they are healed, you may consider covering them with protective boots. Conformity issues may be addressed by your farrier who should take the time to observe the animal at a trot to note the stepping patterns.

Base Narrow and CowhocksIn addition, using some carpenter’s chalk and applying it to the inside of the hoof will help you to find out if and where interference may be occurring. Additionally, you will be able to tell the degree of interference. When a horse is known to be base narrow, you will want to trim the hooves in such a way that the inside wall of the hoof is lowered. If the animal is cow-hocked, on the other hand, the outside of the hoof wall needs to be lowered.

Discuss the problems with your farrier who will be able to make suggestions and also help you to understand exactly what you need to look for. Of course, there are also other gain abnormalities that may affect your horse. One such abnormality is referred to as “forging” and it happens when the hind hoof’s toe makes contact with the heel of the front hoof on the same side. If your horse is wearing shoes, you will hear a consistent annoying clicking sound. The reason for this abnormality is often found in a front limb that is too slow to get out of the way of the hind limb. Another version of this abnormality is referred to as “overreaching” and you will see it in a trotting horse where the toe section of the rear hoof makes square contact with the heel bulb of the front hoof. Shoes will be pulled and lacerations to the heel bulb are frequent occurrences.

Forging may be noticed in animals that are tired, old, improperly conformed, or ridden by inexpert individuals. Look at young horses who have just experienced a growth spurt and you will see a great example of a temporary form of improper conformation. Another cause of forging could be the lameness of a forelimb. For example, if the animal experiences pain in it forelimb, it will adjust its gait and thus the missing extension will oftentimes result in the development of forging. A local anesthetic used to block the front feet will usually help the animal resolve its gait problem, but will then require another examination for the cause of the lameness.

OverreachingAllow your farrier to assist you by improving the timing of the gait, such as she or he would be able to facilitate the speeding up for the breakover of the front hooves and slowing down the advance of the rear hooves. Trimming of excessive front toe lengths will help, as will the use of a rocker-toe shoe. Trimming of the hind hooves so as to move the heel toward the most open portion of the grog will help create a sturdy ground surface. A square toe shoe decreases the overall breakover. It may take a little time to correct this gait abnormality, yet if you find that in spite of all efforts the problem remains, then perhaps the animal is unsuited for the kinds of athletic exercises you are putting it through.

Read the next horse health tips article on Mood swings & Temperament Changes.
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