ISSN 2398-2977      

Musculoskeletal: gait evaluation



  • Pain or mechanical dysfunction in the musculoskeletal system can → alterations of gait, manifest as lameness or poor performance.
  • Evaluation of changes in the normal gait, although a subjective process, is an essential part of diagnostic work up for lameness following examination of the horse at rest Musculoskeletal: physical examination - adult.
  • Neurologic dysfunction may also → abnormal gait.
  • Subtle and/or bilateral lameness can be very difficult to identify.
  • Changes in behaviour, and facial expression may also indicate the presence of pain.
  • Soundness in a straight line does not preclude the presence of pain causing lameness or poor performance.
  • It is important to bear in mind that clinical signs are frequently seen distant to the source of pain. For example hindlimb lameness often causes thoracolumbar stiffness in the absence of primary back pain, or a reluctance to bend in one direction in the absence of primary neck pain or pathology.
  • Following examination at rest Musculoskeletal: physical examination - adult and evaluation of conformation Musculoskeletal: conformation.


  • Lameness evaluation.
  • Poor performance evaluation.
  • Neurological examination.
  • Prepurchase examination Pre-purchase examination.


  • The severity of lameness can be graded to allow subjective characterization, which can be used for comparison of lameness over time, following diagnostic analgesia or after treatment/therapy.
  • The severity of lameness can be highly variable under different circumstances, e.g. walk versus trot, straight lines versus circles.
  • Some grading scales, eg the commonly used American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) scale, do not permit the grading of lameness under different circumstances independently.
  • When used correctly, the AAEP scale is likely to be misleading and insensitive.
  • A numerical rating scale which can be combined with description/qualification of the gait, and applied under different circumstances (in hand, lunge, ridden, etc) has been proposed as a superior system:
    • Grade 0 - no lameness detected.
    • Grade 2 - mild lameness.
    • Grade 4 - moderate lameness.
    • Grade 6 - severe lameness.
    • Grade 8 - non-weightbearing.
  • The characteristics of lameness under different circumstances should be described, eg the stride length, height of step, presence of toe drag, body lean angle on the lunge and fetlock excursion (dropping).
  • Other potential indicators of pain should also be noted, such as tail swishing, evasive or conflict behavior, ears pinned back, etc.


  • Inexpensive.
  • Non-invasive.
  • Essential for identification of the lame(r) limb(s).
  • Essential for identification of significant rider or tack factors.
  • Influences prognosis.
  • Can be repeated to assess the response to diagnostic analgesia or following therapy.


  • Subjective.
  • Reliant on observer experience.
  • The interobserver agreement is variable, particularly for hindlimb and subtle lameness.
  • Bilateral, hindlimb and subtle lameness can be difficult to identify, especially for inexperienced veterinarians.
  • Few causes of lameness have gait abnormalities which are pathognomonic.
  • The vast majority of clinical signs are non-specific.


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to start a free trial to access all Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds and videos, or Login


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to start a free trial to access all Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds and videos, or Login


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to start a free trial to access all Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds and videos, or Login

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Hammarberg M, Egenvall A, Pfau T & Rhodin M (2016) Rater agreement of visual lameness in horses during lungeing. Equine Vet J 48 (1), 78-82 PubMed.
  • Barstow A & Dyson S (2015) Clinical features and diagnosis of sacroiliac joint region pain in 296 horses: 2004-2014. Equine Vet Educ 27 (12), 637-647 VetMedResource.
  • Pfau T, Fiske-Jackson A & Rhodin M (2015a) Quantitative assessment of gait parameters in horses: useful for aiding clinical decision making? Equine Vet Educ 28 (4), 209-215 VetMedResource
  • Pfau T, Boultbee H, Davis H, Walker A & Rhodin M (2015b) Agreement between two inertial sensor gait analysis systems for lameness examinations. Equine Vet Educ 28 (4), 203-208 VetMedResource.
  • Greve L & Dyson S J (2013) An investigation of the relationship between hindlimb lameness and saddle slip. Equine Vet J 45 (5), 570-577 PubMed.
  • Dyson S (2011a) Can lameness be graded reliably? Equine Vet J 43 (4), 379-382 PubMed.
  • Keegan K et al (2010) Repeatability of subjective evaluation of lameness in horses. Equine Vet J 42 (2), 92-97 PubMed.
  • Hewetson M, Christley R, Hunt I & Voute L (2006) Investigation of the reliability of observational gait analysis for the assessment of lameness in horses. Vet Rec 158 (25), 852-858 PubMed.
  • Dyson S, Murray R, Schramme M & Branch M (2004) Collateral desmitis of the distal interphalangeal joint in 18 horses (2001-2002). Equine Vet J 36 (2), 160-166 PubMed.
  • Licka T, Kapaun M & Peham C (2004) Influence of rider on lameness in trotting horses. Equine Vet J 36 (8), 734-736 PubMed.
  • Dyson S & Murray R (2003) Pain associated with the sacroiliac joint region: a clinical study of 74 horses. Equine Vet J 35 (3), 240-245 PubMed.
  • Buchner H H F, Savelberg H H C M, Schamhardt H C & Barneveld Q (1996) Limb movement adaptations in horses with experimentally induced fore- or hindlimb lameness. Equine Vet Educ 28 (1), 63-70 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Baxter G M (2011) Ed. Adams and Stashak’s Lameness in Horses. 6th edn. Wiley & Sons.
  • Dyson S (2011b) The Elbow, Brachium and Shoulder. In: Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse. Eds: Ross M W & Dyson S J. Elsevier Saunders, USA. pp 427.
  • Ross M W & Dyson S J (2011) Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse. 2nd edn. Elsevier Saunders, USA.
  • Dyson S (2002) Lameness Associated with Stifle and Pelvic Regions. In: Proc AAEP Annual Convention. pp 387-411.


Accessory carpal: fracture

Accessory ligament DDFT: forelimb - desmitis

Anesthesia: premedication - overview

Bone: osteochondrosis

Bone: physitis

Bone: scintigraphy

Cardiovascular: aortoiliac thrombosis

Carpal joint: disease - overview

Carpus: fracture - chip

Carpus: fracture - comminuted

Carpus: fracture - slab

Carpus: intercarpal ligament (MPICL) - trauma

Carpus: osteochondroma

Carpus: sheath tenosynovitis


Common digital extensor tendon: rupture

Coxofemoral joint: disease - overview

Deep digital flexor tendon: tendinitis

DIP joint: disease - overview

Distal phalanx: fractures

Distal phalanx: pedal osteitis - non-septic

Distal phalanx: pedal osteitis - septic

Elbow: osteoarthritis

Extensor carpi radialis muscle: rupture

Extensor tendon: laceration

Femur: physeal fracture

Foot / shoe: examination

Foot: contracted heels

Foot: heel - sheared

Foot: heel and hoof - avulsion injuries

Foot: hoof wall fracture

Foot: keratoma

Foot: laminitis

Foot: lateral cartilage calcification (sidebone)

Foot: sole bruising

Foot: subsolar abscess/infection

Forelimb: perineural analgesia

Forelimb: radiography

Hindlimb: perineural analgesia

Hindlimb: radiography

Hoof: seedy toe

Humerus: fracture

Joint: septic arthritis - adult


MC / MT 3: condylar fracture

MC / MT 3: diaphysis fracture

MC / MT 3: dorsal metacarpal disease

MC/MT 2 and 4: fracture

MC/MT 2 and 4: periostitis (splints)

MCP / MTP joint: chronic proliferative synovitis

MCP / MTP joint: developmental orthopedic diseases

MCP / MTP joint: disease - overview

Middle phalanx: fracture

Muscle: myopathy - fibrotic

Muscle: myopathy - sporadic exertional rhabdomyolysis

Musculoskeletal: angular deformity

Musculoskeletal: back pain

Musculoskeletal: conformation

Musculoskeletal: fracture - first aid

Musculoskeletal: manipulative tests

Musculoskeletal: osteoarthritis (joint disease)

Musculoskeletal: physical examination - adult

Musculoskeletal: physiotherapy

Musculoskeletal: rectal palpation

Navicular bone: fracture

Navicular bone: syndrome

Navicular bursa: puncture

Neurology: examination - adult

Palmar / plantar annular ligament syndrome

Palmar digital nerve: neurectomy

Patella: fracture

Patella: luxation

Patella: upward fixation

Pelvis: fracture

Pelvis: trauma - sacroiliac

PIP joint: diseases - overview

PIP joint: luxation and subluxation

PIP joint: osteoarthritis

Pre-purchase examination (UK)

Proximal phalanx: fracture

Proximal sesamoid: fracture

Radius: fracture

Scapula: fracture - supraglenoid tubercle

SDFT: luxation

SDFT: tendinitis

Spine: coccygeal - trauma

Stifle: femoropatellar osteochondrosis

Stifle: femorotibial subchondral bone cyst

Stifle: trauma - collateral ligament

Stifle: trauma - cruciate ligament

Stifle: trauma - meniscal

Straight sesamoidean ligament: desmitis

Suspensory ligament: desmitis - midbody

Suspensory ligament: desmitis - proximal

Synovial fluid: collection

Tarsus: fracture

Tarsus: osteoarthritis (bone spavin)

Tarsus: osteochondrosis

Tarsus: tarsocrural synovitis (bog spavin)

Temporohyoid joint osteoarthropathy (THO)


Tibia: fracture - diaphyseal

Tibia: fracture - malleolar

Tibia: fracture - physeal

Tibia: fracture - tibial crest

Ulna: fracture

Ultrasonography: bone / joints

Ultrasonography: flexor tendon

Want more related items, why not
contact us

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

We have an ever growing content library on Vetlexicon so if you ever find we haven't covered something that you need please fill in the form below and let us know!


To show you are not a Bot please can you enter the number showing adjacent to this field