Specialized Lameness Evaluation for the Jumping Horse

Horses performing different jobs require specialized examinations for lameness, according to Philippe Benoit, DVM, French jumping team veterinarian from 1991 to 2000. Benoit presented his method for examining jumping horses at the 2006 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention in San Antonio, Texas, held Dec. 2-6

Benoit said he likes to see jumping horses in action under saddle--warming up, going through their work, and cooling off, as some pain might be visible only in a specific aspect of the performance, as such as horse that prefers landing on one particular foot.

According to Benoit, the evaluation under saddle should be considered along with the traditional veterinary lameness exam, an exam of the environment (size of arena, footing conditions, etc.), and the rider's evaluation of the horse.

During an exam under saddle, Benoit asks the rider to warm the horse up using their normal routine. He considers the horse's bending, amplitude, gait, and stride length, and the motion of different parts of the back. He watches the horse's reaction to collection, which he noted is particularly helpful for diagnosing stifle problems. While the rider is a crucial part of an under saddle exam, Benoit stressed the rider should be skilled enough to give the practitioner the ability to evaluate the horse without interference.

Each stage of the jumping effort can be evaluated separately, Benoit said.

During take-off, check the horse's trajectory over the fence, symmetry between the horse's limbs, and look for tardiness in the front limbs. Over the jump, look at the horse's stance over the jump, considering the position of the neck and back, and the horse's way of extending hind limbs over fence. As the horse lands, observe the motion of the back and neck, see if the horse is landing on a preferred front foot, and look at the flexion and extension of lumbar and sacral areas.

Between jumps, consider whether the horse maintains its lead consistently and correctly, and whether it deviates laterally on takeoff (consistently jumping at an angle following a straight approach). Look at the horse's speed, level of collection, and quality of movement between fences.

Following exertion, watch the horse trot actively in both directions to see if anything has changed.

Considering all of these criteria while watching a horse perform as they do in competition can help practitioners pinpoint possible sources of pain. Benoit said exams of this sort can also be helpful for performance horses competing in disciplines other than jumping.

"It's very useful to do this sort of examination in other disciplines, once you know enough about that discipline and the rider's ability," Benoit said. "This is a way of communicating with people. If you see a lesion in the hoof or back, that might be the cause of non-performance, not inability."

Get research and health news from the American Association of Equine Practitioners 2006 Convention in The Horse's AAEP 2006 Wrap-Up sponsored by OCD Equine. Files are available as free PDF downloads.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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