Lame Horse--No Apparent Cause


On Friday afternoon, my 24 y/o QH gelding came up extremely lame, grade 5, not wanting to put any weight on his left hind leg, hopping right off it when he had to walk, not putting the heel down. Immediately, I checked his hoof and found nothing–nothing stuck in it, no bruising, no heat, no evidence of a blowout or abscess… I continued up the entire leg and found no swelling, no heat, no pain reaction. Called the vet out and and had him looked him over, pared the hoof around the frog a bit looking for softness or evidence of drainage/bruising…NOTHING! He did not react at all during his exam. He did not react to hoof testers. I am absolutely baffled, but extremely concerned because he is still very sore. He is stalled and on bute and is now putting weight on the leg to move, but basically nothing more. It’s been 4 days and I still do not see any evidence of pain/reaction. I’m also soaking the foot, just in case there’s an abscess deep in there, daily.

Has anyone experienced anything similar or know where to start looking for the issue?!

He is barefoot and was trimmed a little over one week prior to this. He was also adjusted two days prior to the lameness. I’m still waiting (praying at this point) for an abscess to show up.
He was adjusted because he was off in the hind end, had right hip/leg rotated in. He was adjusted once a couple weeks prior to this last adjustment and was doing well.

Sudden grade 5 lameness with no clear cause screams abcess to me, regardless of how he reacts to hoof testers and the like. I’d keep soaking, movement will help drive it out.


I am also in the boat that sudden onset lameness is typically an abscess.

Did the vet take any hoof X-rays?

Going to be the third one to say that when a horse all of a sudden acts like their leg is broken, I think abscess. If he’s starting to put weight on the leg to move … I’d encourage it. Turn him out in a small paddock if possible and keep soaking the foot. Are you wrapping it?

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I haven’t been wrapping it. Should it be wrapped before signs of drainage?

No X-rays. I sure hope abscess, we can handle that.

Did you and the vet discuss what your next step is if the lameness did not resolve?

The protocol I always used for an abscess was to soak it and then pack the foot and wrap it. What you pack with depends on what product you like best. Some type of drawing agent to encourage the abscess to drain.


Animalintex works great, IME.

They make epsom salt poultice, but I’ve never had luck with it.

Old school is icthammol, but god damn is that stuff messy and gross. It does work though.


This has always worked amazingly for me.
But it is getting harder to find (it used to be everywhere).
I agree on the messy and gross factor.

I do love the animalintex pads. So easy. Work great. Not cheap.


If all signs are pointing to abscess, but nothing has happened after 5ish days of treatment, I’d have the vet back out to x-ray the foot.


Never have had luck with soaking or wrapping - I had one horse though who stood as if he was broken-legged in one spot in the field for 2 days before the abscess came out the top. We did xray and saw the bubbles, so treated for pain and kept him eating and drinking. It was awful.

On a slightly more humorous note, I had another horse (OTTB) who abscessed regularly and was super dramatic … a barn owner called my vet without my knowledge to press for him to be euthanized as he “obviously had a broken leg”. Vet knew my horse’s history and brushed it off, and then he popped abscesses in two front feet at the same time. Funny enough, this horse consistently abscessed until he got loose from same barn owner one day and hard galloped all over for about 30 minutes. Strangely after that - no abscesses.


I had a horse that did this and he had really pissed off his stifle somehow, in the stall, with repeated clean ultrasounds other than some effusion on the joint. Obviously won’t cause swelling in the lower leg or be reactive to hoof testers.


Another vote for abscess. Some take up to two weeks or more to burst…keep soaking and wrapping.

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I use these for soaking - game changer for the horse who will not stand in a pan, worth every penny:

For wrapping: Poultice -> diaper -> vetwrap -> ductape pad -> more duct tape -> more duct tape -> more duct tape. I’m going to try the plastic cutting boards someone suggested in another thread next time (hopefully never) I have to wrap again, as bottom blow outs are inevitable regardless of how many layers of duct tape end up on the bottom (especially if horse is shod).


Gorilla tape lasts longer than duct tape.

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That’s what I use. It’s no match for a shod and busy minded 1300# horse lol

Just buy a hoof boot to put over your poultice and you’ll save a lot of money on useless duct tape “boots” that are a load of unrecyclable landfill within 5 minutes.



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I have seen a really bad case of cellulitis make a horse not want to bear weight. The swelling progressed very quickly and within a day went from hoof to above the hock.

Not sure how much swelling OP’s horse has in the leg? Should be able to see elevated body temperature from severe cellulitis.

I would be concerned the chiro injured the horse, I have seen it happen. I’d have the vet back out unless they are also the chiro in which case I’d have another vet out. X-ray the foot. Then look at the back.

And fyi: Horses hips cannot “rotate” at the level of the bone. They can have tight muscles that cause uneven tension or even torsion on their bony frame but yanking or torquing on their skeleton does nothing to help that. It still amazes me how many vets recommend, promote or even do chiropractic treatment, especially given the risk of devastating injury…