Help with dramatic Thanksgiving Eve lameness? (aka horses have the best timing)

My really wonderful 4.5-year-old came up incredibly lame last night. He was fabulous the last time I rode him on Sunday (35-min dressage school in the arena). Monday he had off but I did not see anything weird. I know he trotted around a little when I took my TB out of the field but he didn’t seem frantic and they weren’t even calling to each other. The ground is not wet or slippery.

Yesterday when I went to catch him he turned around and walked away, which should have been my first clue because he is incredibly snuggly and always wants to say hello. I trailered him to a lesson and didn’t feel any scrambling. After I got on him I felt an intermittent little hitch in his walk and as soon as I trotted I leapt off because he was hopping lame on the RH. No heat, pulse, or swelling anywhere and negative to hoof testers. Trainer could not feel anything either.

My three horses are usually out 24/7 this time of year but I kept them all in the barn for the night, with in/out access to ~15’ x 30’ individual runs. My regular vet kindly came out this morning despite being very busy and of course the horse jogged and flexed completely sound. The vet had seen a video I took yesterday so he was a bit mystified but thought perhaps he pulled a muscle and recommended a week of Robaxin and turnout. I gave him the Robaxin this morning but kept them in until I could be home from work to check him again and supervise turnout. He stayed in his stall and run for the day, so same situation as overnight.

When I got home this afternoon he was again SUPER lame. My only explanation for this morning is that he had some adrenaline due to the change in routine and his friends in the barn screaming for him. (They were all very angry about being in the barn overnight and were acting like ninnies.) The vet can return on Friday afternoon assuming he doesn’t have emergencies, and I also made an appointment with a sports med vet for next Wednesday. In the meantime I am freaking out though and wondering if anyone has ideas based on this video (longeing clip at beginning from today and the rest from yesterday):

(audio removed because it’s distractingly full of my husband and I gasping in dismay and apologizing to the poor horse for making him move)

To me it looks high on the RH, like stifle or SI or possibly pelvis. I could be wrong but it also looks like months of stall rest, :cry: which will mean borrowing a fourth horse or pony so the other two can get some turnout.

Also, he now has very loose, wet manure and I’m wondering if this could be the Robaxin? Vet said he has never seen that as a side effect but I can skip it tomorrow morning and see if that helps. I hope it’s not suggestive of an internal injury that’s affecting his GI system somehow and also making him lame? Ugh, didn’t think of that until right I was typing it and now I’m worried about that too. I’m sure it’s more likely the Robaxin and change in routine/diet (same hay but no grass), right? I do have the option of shipping him 45 min to a teaching hospital if necessary.

Any thoughts? Thank you in advance…the uncertainty until we get a diagnosis might literally kill me.

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My first thought, after reading that Petey was fine when you rode him on Sunday and now he’s DFL, is an abscess. To me, it seems that abscesses typically present as fine one day, but hobbling the next day, with no sign of swelling or injury. A bad stone bruise, from running in the field, could also be the culprit. And yes, I’ve had hoof abscesses in hind feet, whether shod or unshod. Animalintex pads and ichthamol are two of my closest friends.

I am the worst at obsessing over my horse’s health and soundness, so I totally empathize with your anxiety. But unless your vet discovers some sort of trauma or injury, I’m going to stick with an abscess or stone bruise. And they do get well. Eventually. :heart:


Oh no! I have no words of wisdom but I sure am sorry about your boy. Jingles!

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I’ll also add that when my oldie had his most recent and most gnarly abscess that he had some intermittent lameness. He’s also had abscesses in hind feet.

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Agree that an abscess is the Occam’s Razor diagnosis.

You don’t always feel a pulse or heat or etc. Had a vet who was convinced a horrible hind end lameness was not an abscess and wanted to try to block the coffin joint. I said we needed to wait a bit longer, and it was an abscess.

They can come on FAST. A friend was jogging for back-to-back hunter rounds. Horse jogged up the ring fine. She turned him and he jogged back DFL. It was an abscess. She figured that turning him caused pressure in exactly the wrong place. My horse from the second paragraph had gone from sound to “I think I feel something” to DFL in about 60 meters of trot.

Hope he feels better soon and you get it figured out.


Another that thinks abcess. He is not wanting to load his heel when he starts ‘hitching’. He is trying to walk on the toe only.

My mare did that. Somewhat lame with a bit of cold swelling in the fetlock. It was stable but not improving so I took her to the vet. I thought she was a bit pissy with the hoof testers but the vet thought not. Diagnosis, sprain/strain to the fetlock. I gave her bute for 3 days per the vet. She was better so I took a day off from going to the barn. When I came out next, OMG, she was barely weight bearing with a stove pipe leg…swelling clear up above the hock!. I wondered what in the hell she had done. I was trying to make arrangements for a stall thinking she blew the suspensory or DDFT and was soaking her leg in cold water. When I took her leg out of the water and was palpating it, her lateral heel was still blazing hot. I canceled the stall thing and thank goodness, the next day we had a hole in the hairline at the heel and she was 90% better.

Abcesses are stealthy, damn it.



Hmmmmm. You guys are talking me off the ledge a little, thank you! Abscess was my first thought/hope but I didn’t think it would look like that? To me it looked more like he can’t swing his RH forward than like he’s avoiding pain in the foot. But now the more I obsessively watch the videos the more I think @Kyrabee is right about him not wanting to load his heel. Maybe I will do an Animalintex poultice tonight in the spirit of “can’t hurt, might help.”

I think I have some PTSD because my last 4-year-old went lame in November (2017) and my vet said it was a bruise or abscess. Thousands of dollars and a year later (November 2018) I had to put him down due to being incurably lame on three legs from DSLD/ESPA. My dad also died in November and he was my favorite person in the world. I hate November.


Add me to the abscess crew. Don’t obsess over the videos. There’s nothing you can or can’t tell from those other than the horse is lame. :wink: Hoof testers don’t really mean much depending on where the abscess is in the foot. Soak, poultice, give him a few days, and enjoy your Thanksgiving. Remember: when you hear hoofbeats, don’t go looking for zebras.


Yes I agree. An abscess seems likely.

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One of mine did this (I mentioned it recently in another thread with 4-5/5 lameness). He really pissed off his stifle in the stall while in for bad weather doing who knows what. Confirmed with brief exam and block. Ultrasounds never showed any injury. Just inflammation. We did a series of IRAP. He was fine after the first IRAP really but we did the series of 3, medial and middle parts of the joint because those were the most angry. Follow up ultrasound where we could move the leg to get different views also showed nothing. A complete mystery! Horses!

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I know next to nothing about lameness, but… with the way it came on so suddenly I would think abcess as well. The only other thing I would ask is did your vet palpate, push on, mess with…his stifle at all to see if at some point he went OUCH GTFO ME DUDE!!! ?

He does walk like my mare did when her stifle started going out, granted she was in her 30s. Did he have any extra grass, dirt, or mud on that side like he took a turn in the field running around and slipped and fell? If that was the case he could be just bruised and sore. Maybe try to feel for heat or swelling further up in his stifle and hip areas? Linament the stifle area as a precaution in case he is bruised? Look at him from behind, standing as square as you can get him, see if you notice that side is inflamed?

Again I do not know squat when it comes to lameness, just the few small things I have experienced, and the knowledge that abcesses are a hiding biatch sometimes. I really hope with rest and some meds he is better asap for you!

Oh, if it is a stifle, can he be in the stall and still have a lot attached or anything? I just know that would be a lot of twisting and torqueing on that area, sometimes we are stuck with rock, meet hard place in these situations though. :frowning:

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4 1/2 is still growing, and some baby horses will develop loose stifles and continually ‘catch’ the stifle as they trot. It usually goes away as they grow up. And the fact that he takes a few normal steps then really goes lame makes me lean away from abscess, since usually they are dead lame from the start.
It can come on really suddenly and present like some sort of horrifying lameness. But usually the treatment is just building strength.

So, don’t freak out. It could just be something simple.


Bless him, he does look pitiful when trotting.

I’ll add a voice to the abscess theory. The main factor in saying that for me is that it did come and go at one point. To my knowledge, an abscess is the only thing that will make a horse dead lame one day, totally fine the next, and then dead lame again. Anything else would have stayed consistently bad, in my experience anyway.


Agree locked stifle is a possibility especially since it goes in and out. Poor dude! I had one that would do this randomly like every 5 years out of the 20 I owned him. He was otherwise sound into his 30s if that makes you feel any better, OP!


Isn’t there somewhere that if you think their stifle is locked you back them a few steps and then walk them forward and see if there is a difference like it is unlocked? I vaguely remember something about that but again could be completely wrong.


Jogged him a few steps on the driveway this morning and he looked fine again! Seriously hoping that’s more evidence of an abscess, in which case I’d love to turn them all back out but I’m afraid to until I know more. Last night I wrapped it with Animalintex so this afternoon we will see if the Thanksgiving Fairy brings me any pus…

ETA his manure is normal again so that makes me think the Robaxin was the culprit. I skipped it this morning as a test.

The hoofbeats diagnosis is abscess, and he will probably keep doing this for a few days until it blows. The fact that he is apparently walking comfortably says he’ll probably survive until tomorrow. Since you have the vet out tomorrow, it’s worth looking up high to see if he has something inflammatory that might be pressing on a nerve when he moves a certain way (that’s the zebra,) but rapid onset + transient says pus to me! Good luck to your little man, he sure does look pitiful at the trot.

It looks like R hind, possibly stifle to me.

Add me to the crew who hopes it’s “only” an abscess. My mare came up dead lame last week and after a few days looks fine. I couldn’t find anything but also am recovering from a broken wrist, so couldn’t hold her mammoth draft X hoof up for very long. I’m guessing it was an abscess and my farrier will come on Monday to look at it.

Abscesses can be funny, because they can shrink and swell, depending on hydration, moisture, and movement, so I agree it’s a possibility. Unfortunately, sometimes the less obvious ones are the shiest about popping and draining. I find it harder to detect heat from infection with my hands in cold weather because of my own circulation issues (everything feels cold).

I hope you get some yucky drainage soon and he gets some relief!