How to Diagnose Suspensory Lameness in a Horse

Written by kathy bowe
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The suspensory ligament runs vertically from the cannon bone to the fetlock on a horse's fore and hind limbs, preventing hyperextension. Prolonged exertion or traumatic injury can damage the suspensory ligament, causing strains or tears that result in varying degrees of lameness. While a veterinarian is the only person qualified to make a definitive diagnosis, a paper published in the "Journal of Equine Veterinary Science" identifies steps that can pinpoint the suspensory apparatus as a likely source of mild to moderate lameness.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Halter
  • Lead rope or lungeline
  • Assistant

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  1. 1

    Palpate the suspensory ligament in the affected leg. While there is not typically heat or swelling associated with a suspensory injury, the area will most likely be painful, and the horse will react to pressure. There might also be some thickening of the area when compared with the unaffected limbs.

  2. 2

    Observe the horse at the walk and trot in-hand, on a straight line. Ask an assistant to walk and trot the horse in a straight line. Suspensory lameness is normally subtle, but is more consistently observable in the hind limbs. Trotting the horse on a soft surface can make the lameness more pronounced. According to a report published by "Keenan McAlister Equine Clinic," a severely injured suspensory ligament might cause the fetlock to sink toward the ground.

  3. 3

    Observe the horse at a walk and trot on a circle, either while your assistant leads the horse in-hand or lunges the horse. Suspensory lameness should be more pronounced when the horse is put on a circle. The horse may warm out of the lameness over time, and the lameness is usually more obvious when the affected leg is on the outside of the circle.

  4. 4

    Perform a flexion test on the affected leg. Hold the affected joint in a flexed position for approximately 60 seconds, and ask your assistant to immediately trot the horse off in a straight line. Observe the affected leg for more pronounced lameness. Please note: a licensed veterinarian can perform a more thorough flexion test; this self-test should be used for preliminary observation only.

Tips and warnings

  • Consult your veterinarian if you think your horse has suffered a suspensory injury, as a professional examination and ultrasound are the only definitive way to confirm a diagnosis.

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