Question: I have a Trakehner/Thoroughbred cross that starts flexing his hind legs rather noticeably when trotting and/or beginning to canter. He usually does not do this unless he gets excited in the trot, is striking off in the canter, or is transitioning to trot from canter. He never does this at the walk. He is three years old and quite big, and he is probably still growing. His hind legs appear normal. Should I worry?        Linda, via e-mail

It is certainly likely that your 3-year-old horse's exaggerated hind leg gait at the canter might resolve as he becomes older and the relative incoordination and lack of muscular development of youth resolves. There are several other conditions, however, which could produce the gait you describe.

Some individuals with bilateral osteochondrosis (OCD) lesions in their stifles can present with what is sometimes described as a "bunny-hop" gait at the canter. Evaluation of your horse for this type of problem is well worth doing at this point in time, as treatment of such lesions earlier, rather than later, can improve the prognosis.

A good physical examination to assess the presence of any stifle joint distention, combined with radiographic evaluation of the trochlear ridges or condyles of the femur (the upper bone of the stifle joint), should answer this question.

Some individuals with a gait like you describe might do so as a result of a neurologic disability, and I would recommend that a careful neurologic examination be performed for safety reasons.

Stringhalt is another condition that produces exaggerated hiking of the hind limbs, however this gait abnormality is evident at the walk and trot as well. Shivers is a condition which results in a sudden, exaggerated flexion of the hind leg, but usually only when the horse is asked to back up or pick up a hind leg when standing still (for instance, by the farrier). Usually these horses appear perfectly normal when being exercised.

About the Author

Midge Leitch, VMD, Dipl. ACVS

Midge Leitch, VMD, Dipl. ACVS, having closed her referral practice which focused primarily on performance horses in Cochranville, PA, is now a member of the Section of Sports Medicine and Imaging and serves as the Clinician in Radiology at New Bolton Center, Kennett Square, PA.

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