Lameness – Thoughts on how can you be better prepared to help your Veterinarian diagnose and treat your horse

Lameness – Thoughts on how can you be better prepared to help your Veterinarian diagnose and treat your horse

By: Mike Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

Lameness can be defined in many ways. One of my favorite definitions comes from a course I took that was taught by Dr. Carrie Schlachter (DVM) who defined lameness as – “a loss of balanced and fluid motion through a variety of movements, any alteration in a horse’s gait which creates asymmetrical movement, any change in performance level or pattern, any weakness that alters the normal performance level of a horse.”

In a lameness examination, the veterinarian will often proceed through these five steps:

  • Learn the history of the horse and the complaint about what is wrong with the movement.
    1. In this — it is important to be able to explain when you last felt or saw what is normal for the horse. Owners and Riders and Trainers often disagree on when normal was last seen so it is important to get input from everyone.
  • Perform a visual and physical examination – often referred to as a static exam.
    1. Touch and sight to see where the horse may have bumps, bruises, asymmetry, etc.
  • Perform a movement exam
    1. Visual and/or with diagnostic tools that are on the horse to measure the movement.
  • Further examination components to identify the diagnosis
    1. Can include nerve blocking and imaging (ultrasound, radiology, MRI, CT scan, nuclear scintigraphy)
  • Development of a treatment plan (which in some cases may also include a veterinarian recommended rehab plan)

Note: — As owners, trainers, and coaches …we can all be challenged at times with determining what leg is responsible for the lameness. One way to identify the responsible leg in the front end of the horse — is to remember, “down on the sound,” which is a way to remember that the horse’s head goes down when the sound leg is on the ground.

Those of us who see a horse each and every day can be regarded as experts on how a horse moves normally … but when things are not normal … we are often challenged to explain what the abnormality is in the movement of the horse. As we ride, we may feel something not right – again – it is the rider that understands the feel but it is sometimes difficult to explain what is off in the feeling of how the horse is moving.

Being prepared to explain what is normal for your horse:

This can be a challenge because not all of us use the same words to explain what we see or feel. Also, when anxiety creeps in when we have a lame horse … it can be difficult to remember everything we have felt or seen with this horse in the past days or weeks.

So how do we overcome this challenge of explaining normal – video can save the day. You can record (high quality video camera or your cell phone) and easily show your veterinarian what is normal. Many veterinarians are willing to look at a quick video (please have these videos easy to find and share) to help him/her see what your horse looks like normally.

With a focused protocol (such as this one recommended here) we can have a library (on our phone) of how our horse(s) moves normally. In all of these guidelines — make sure that you keep the entire horse in the view screen

  • Video horse at Walk and Trot in a straight line filmed from behind (coming and going).
    1. 1 walk line of about 100 feet coming and going.
    2. 3 Trot lines of about 100 feet coming and going.
  • Video horse at Walk and Trot in a straight line filmed from the side.
    1. 1 walk line of about 100 feet.
    2. 3 Trot lines of about 100 feet.
  • Video horse at Walk and Trot in a circle (film from inside or from outside the circle … just be consistent on position from where you film and make sure to capture the whole horse). These circles can be 10 to 30 feet in diameter.
    1. 1 circle at walk to the left.
    2. 3 Trot circles to the left.
    3. 1 circle at walk to the right.
    4. 3 trot circles to the right.
  • Capture the above straight lines and circles on both hard ground (packed dirt is okay) and on soft ground.
  • The above can be done in-hand (on the halter) and it is also a great idea to do these same videos with the normal rider on the back.
    1. When lameness is seen with the rider and not (or not as easily) with the horse moving in hand … there can be rider/tack related issues that are creating or enhancing the lameness.
      1. Some of these rider/tack issues can include saddle fit, rider balance, rein contact (rein lameness) …and maybe a few other issues that also need to be corrected while the horse is treated/in rehab.

The above protocol for capturing video is really helpful to use when you want to explain normal. You can capture video yearly, semi-annually, or quarterly (or more often if you wish).

For the suggestion of recording this video with the rider – this focused protocol is better than capturing video of a horse in a class/test at a show because at the show you do not have total control of the distance traveled, number of circles ridden or the aspect from which to video.

Other benefits of these videos include:  being able to see rider changes in position or balance, see rider changes in rein contact, and evaluate the progressive development of your horse in hand verses under saddle.

I know this blog gives you some guidance on how to be better prepared for a possible lameness in your horse.  You are welcome to share this blog post and thank you for reading.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at



Competition – Vital Signs – Welfare – Are you doing all you can?

Competition – Vital Signs – Welfare – Are you doing all you can?

by Dr. Mike Guerini,

As a former Emergency Medical Technician and a former Veterinary Assistant, I know that monitoring vital signs for both human and horse give me just a little bit of information as to what is going to happen – before it happens. When I coach people at shows, I make it my responsibility for monitoring the vitals of horse and rider. Are you doing the same for yourself and your horse?

This is not about being a worrier – this is not about being paranoid – this IS about welfare of both horse and rider. We have an obligation to those we coach, to our horses, and to ourselves to be keeping track of our health through the day, especially at times of competition, training, traveling — well just about any time we are working as horse or rider.

Temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR)–are the absolute basics every horse owner or caretaker should know if they want to take the best care of their animals and themselves. These three vital signs are just the bare bones of a physical examination but they can let us know if we are about to have a big problem.

Let us review the HORSE NORMALS:

The normal rectal temperature of a horse is 99.5-101.5°F (37.5-38.6ºC).

The normal heart rate for most horses is 32-36 beats per minute (some a little higher and some a little lower).

The normal respiratory rate for adult horses is 8 to 12 breaths per minute.

Let us review the HUMAN NORMALS:

The normal temperature of a person is 97.8-99.0°F (36.5-37.2ºC).

The normal heart rate for most people is 60 to 100 beats per minute (some a little higher and some a little lower).

The normal respiratory rate for humans is 12 to 16 breaths per minute.

Needed Tools

A digital thermometer, an inexpensive stethoscope, and a watch (or stopwatch) is all you need. If a stethoscope is not handy, the pulse can be taken from the lingual artery, which is on the bottom side of the jaw where it crosses over the bone for the horse. If a stethoscope is available, then listen to the heart on the left side of the horse’s chest, just behind the elbow. Each “lub-dub” of the heart is considered one beat.

For the human, the pulse can The pulse can be found on the side of the neck, on the inside of the elbow, or at the wrist. For most people, it is easiest to take the pulse at the wrist. If you use the lower neck, be sure not to press too hard, and never press on the pulses on both sides of the lower neck at the same time to prevent blocking blood flow to the brain. When taking your pulse: Using the first and second fingertips, press firmly but gently on the arteries until you feel a pulse.

The Powers of Observation

I believe that the beginning of a really good physical examination begins with observation. This applies to veterinarians, horse owners, medical technicians, etc. A great deal can be learned about the rider or horse just by observing posture, attitude, and environment. That rider that seems to be getting panicky or not paying attention — sure fire sign that the rider needs a timeout and some recovery time.

Same thing for a horse — if the horse does not look right … time for a timeout and to check vitals.


Every equine professional (trainer, coach, instructor) has an absolute obligation to make monitoring of vital signs part of what he or she does in training and competition. Every rider has a supreme responsibility to monitor the health of the horse during any and all rides…and especially during competition. There sure is a great deal of things to do when helping people train, show, learn, or compete —- but the welfare of the horse and the rider needs to come first.

Let us look into 2016 and make sure that we are prepared to monitor vital signs of all those we coach, show, instruct and ride….every horse and rider matters…and if you see a rider or a horse in distress at a show – step up and offer to help.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in Performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding your horse and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (, an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.

5 People in your Circle of Horsemanship

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

We all have some people in our life who we count on to help us along the journey.  We sometimes call these people our “posse”, “BFF’s”, “Village”, “inner circle”, “confidants”, or “our team”.  Well in Horsemanship it is really no different.  We flourish and excel when we have people who help us, engage us, support us, and keep us in line.  So the other day I was reflecting on the people I consider to be part of my Circle of Horsemanship and I identified 5 who are critical to me.

1)  Veterinarian.  In this category I actually have a few veterinarians I rely on.  They all know each other and some specialize in legs, others in reproduction and some in holistic health of the horse.  I am fortunate to be friends with a veterinarian who has mentored me for over 20 years.  For me it is important to have a good veterinarian (or in my case a few) that I rely on and receive good medical advice from when it comes to the health of my horses.

2)  Farrier.  For over 20 years I had the same farrier.  He was always on time, explained what he was doing, and kept my horse’s feet in top shape.  When my old farrier passed away I was lucky enough to find my new farrier and he is always on time, works with me and the horses and once again does a great job.  I feel fortunate and blessed to have found two great farriers in my life.  Almost nothing is more important that my horse having balanced and well taken care of hooves.

3)  Coach/Trainer.  Without a coach or trainer to watch me ride, work on new ideas with me, and to be my second set of eyes I know I would not have made it this far in my riding career.  My coach is not always a professional horseman or horsewoman, but most of the time I do have a coach who is a professional.  My coach helps me better myself, offers advice on training issues, and those who I select to be my coach/trainer are always looking out for the best interest of my horses.

4)  The Friend Who Helps you No matter What.  I think the country singer Tracy Lawrence was thinking of my friend when he sang the song — Find Out Who Your Friends Are.  This is the person who you can call in the middle of the night to come rescue you and your horse from the side of the road when your truck breaks down.  This person drops everything to help you build fence, haul hay, go check out a new horse, or do anything you need…without expecting anything in return.  Let us face it — owning horses can be a tough job some days and we all need a little extra help.

5) The Cheerleader.  In my Circle of Horsemanship I have a friend who roots me on, encourages me, and listens.  This friend does not ride, might actually be a bit afraid of horses but as soon as I start talking horse, this friend sits down and listens.  I wondered if I was the only one to have this type of friend until a few weeks ago when a lady stopped by for a riding lesson.  She brought along a friend who just wanted to see the world of horse lessons and cheer her friend on to success.

You might have more than 5 in your Circle of Horsemanship.  We could add people like Hay person, Chiropractor, Equine Massage Therapist, Parents, Spouses, Significant others, Fellow Horse people, or Hauling/Show buddy.

Who else might you add to your Circle of Horsemanship?  Is it more than 5?  Take a few minutes to thank those people who are in your Circle of Horsemanship.

Right now I give a big shout out to all of you who are in my Circle of Horsemanship.  Thanks friends.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (

Early Detection of Equine Lameness

By Dr. Mike Guerini (

Recently I have found myself working with people who have some lame horses and this got me thinking about how we detect lameness.  Concurrently, I have been reading books by Natalie Keller Reinert and MaryAnn Myers, both of whom write horse racing fiction.  Now wait a minute you ask — how does horse racing fiction help with detecting Equine Lameness.  Well — the fiction has some great stories about life around the racetrack and these well written works relay real life details of what race track trainers do each and every day — they study the horse for any and all weaknesses. After some great conversations with LaurenMichele Mcgarry of Red Horse Equine Arts I decided to pen this article — with some homemade ideas about how we can detect lameness.

Before I begin let me please remind all of you that when you have any question about the health of your horse, you need to consult equine health care professionals.  These professionals can be either a veterinarian, farrier, chiropractor, acupuncture specialist, or other professional.

So what is my point here?  We as horse owners, riders, trainers, breeders, and enthusiasts have the opportunity for early detection of a minor injury or “catch in the horse’s get along.”  Of course we all know what “dead lame” or “three-legged lame” means — time to call the veterinarian.  But what do we do to monitor our horse each and every day — well we follow some of what they do on the racetrack — we study our horses.

1) Learn the length of your horses stride.  If you have a pretty good idea (within an inch or two) of the normal length of your horse’s stride at the walk…and that changes — you may be seeing some early signs of a problem.

2) Study the footfalls of your horse.  Know how your horse places his/her foot on the ground.  Is it straight, is there a slight twist, does the foot roll, etc?  There are many things to look for and each horse is unique — so time to study the footfalls of your horse.

3) Know the movements of the joints. Is the pastern motion fluid, are the hocks fluid, is there and hesitation in the movement of the joints?  By learning the motion of the joints of your horse, you can see when changes are happening….then you can look for issues.

4) Watch how your horse stands around.  If he/she is normally quiet and then you start to see him/her fidget (and it is not flies or insects or being in heat), he/she may be uncomfortable standing on all four hooves or one in particular. Does your horse try to stand up or down hill — maybe he/she is trying to remove pressure from a part of the body.

5) Is the rhythm of the gait changing?  Rhythm is movement of strong and weak elements.  Does your horse seem to have more weak or strong elements than normal — it may be a sign of something changing.

6) Do you feel heat or swelling?  Rub down those legs and know how they normally feel.  Any slight change in temp or size might be an indicator of something changing or a lameness issue developing.

7) Do you notice stumbling or tripping?  This might be a sign that the horse has an issue.  Many times we sum these up as a bad riding day, clumsy horse, or a lazy horse.  These might be an early sign of a problem.

8) Is there an attitude change?  Without any other causes do you notice your horse getting grumpy or unwilling?  These might be the first signs of a skeletal-muscle issue developing in your horse.

Quite a few of these we can do while on the back of a horse during our ride.  Use fence posts to mark distance being covered and when you ask for a gait, if it takes longer, your horse might not be striding correctly.  Feel the legs move beneath you and understand your horse’s normal movement — so that you can detect that “hitch” that may be an early warning sign.

My point is not to scare you or get you to be overly worried about every little movement your horse makes.  What I hope that you will think about after reading this article is how you can become more in tune with your horse and detect issues when they are minor.  When we use rest, hydrotherapy, corrective trimming, massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic along with input from our veterinarian early on to deal with these issues when they are still minor and this might just save money and frustration later on.

Please share your thoughts and I welcome you sharing this article.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (

The Horse Owner – Veterinarian/Farrier/Chiropractor/Body Worker-Massager

The Horse Owner – Veterinarian/Farrier/Chiropractor/Body Worker-Massager

By Dr. Mike Guerini (

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on how we as owners interact with the different professionals in the horse world. Some of these interactions include:

Horse Owner – Horse Trainer

Rider – Riding Instructor

Rider – Clinician

Horse Owner – Veterinarian/Farrier/Chiropractor/Body Worker-Massager

Horse Owner – Stable/arena owner/manager

In the last blog, Dr. Mike from Dun Movin Ranch and Kimberly Bench ( discussed the Rider – Clinician relationship and things you can do to help this interaction be a success.  

The Horse Owner – Veterinarian/Farrier/Chiropractor/ Body Worker-Massager relationships is critical for the health and well-being of your horse.  Thirty or forty years ago, this relationship included the Veterinarian and Farrier with very few people using Equine chiropractic or Body Worker-Massage.  In recent times, the health care team for your horse has expanded to include chiropractors and body worker-massage practitioners yet the basics of the relationship remain the same.

1) Most important of all is that your horse needs to be prepared for treatment by these professionals.  As an owner, you either need to train your horse or have a trainer work with you and/or your horse to help your horse behave correctly for these professionals.  This is very important for the safety of your horse, your equine health care provider, and you.

So what is needed — your horse needs to be able to be caught easily, stand still (at least stand mostly still and quiet), be touched all over the body, and pick up his/her feet with ease.  These professionals are not hired to train your horse, they are employed to provide health care.  If your horse is difficult for you to handle, have a trainer or other qualified equine professional there to assist these people. 

2) Both the owner and the equine health care professional need to be respectful of each others time.  If either is going to be late, notify the other person.  If you need to change the appointment, do so as soon as possible.

3) Develop a relationship  — this goes both ways.  Understand what services the health care professional provides and what he/she is willing to do for you and your horse.  The health care providers also need to understand what the owner is seeking in a health care professional and if this is not something they want to provide, recommend another colleague for the job.

4) Respect the knowledge of the health care provider – but always ask for clarification.  As an owner, once you have selected a professional, trust him or her to do the job correctly but make sure you are satisfied with the answers and the continual care of your horse.  There may be a time that you do not understand or think what is being done is correct — immediately ask for more information because you as the owner, need to make informed decisions.If you decide the health care provider is no longer doing what is best for your horse, select another caregiver.   If you want a second opinion, tell the health care provider you will be seeking a second opinion and tell him/her why.  Often times, especially with lameness, it is a good idea to get a second look but be open about it with the health care provider.

5) Ask for an estimate of charges, anticipated outcomes, and approximation of time involved. Nothing ruins a relationship with your equine health care provider than surprises in the amount being charged.  Your health care provider should be able to give you an estimate on routine work and be pretty close to that estimate.  Often, you must ask for estimated costs, frequency of necessary treatments, and expected outcomes. Nothing is ever guaranteed in health care but anticipated outcomes can be discussed.  The amount of time to complete a treatment or achieve healing can be estimated but exceptions do occur.

6) Follow the treatment instructions.  If you are given a prescribed treatment, make sure you follow the instructions because this will help in keeping the treatment/healing process on time.

7) Know who your equine health care provider recommends in the event that he/she is out-of-town or unable to assist you.  Ask them who takes their calls when they are away and how best you can get ahold of the person who will provide temporary care.  This is important, especially for emergency medical situations.  You do not need to be surprised and have to pull out the yellow pages to find a veterinarian who will assist you.  Most often equine practitioners have their answering service refer you to another available veterinarian.

Thinking about these seven items can help you to build a successful relationship with your Veterinarian/Farrier/Chiropractor/Body Worker-Massager. 

As always, I look forward to your additions and comments on this essay.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (