A novel alternative for cracking the mystery of lameness

Lameness, defined as any alteration of a horse’s gait, is not uncommon. Whether from tendon, ligament, or other soft tissue strain, the trauma of a puncture wound, training-related physical stress, a rock bruising the hoof’s sole, or an unintended run-in with another horse or a fence, many owners confront the reality of a horse ‘going lame’ or becoming unbalanced in its movement at some point during the animal’s life. Each year, the equine industry incurs millions of dollars in financial losses due to lameness, a total that eclipses the sum sustained by cases of colic.

Lameness evaluations start with noninvasive techniques such as assessing a horse in motion, a flexion test, or applying pressure, using a hoof tester to the horse’s sole to identify sensitivity or pain. Visual assessment by a farrier and a veterinarian can confirm lameness, but the true source of the injury cannot always be determined. Hoof testers are often used to detect an abscess, a navicular condition, a bruise in the hoof capsule, or fractures in the bone and do not always indicate a ligament or tendon injury.

Secondary assessments advance to more invasive tests, including nerve and joint blocks to isolate the specific region of the injury.  Progressing through standard testing alternatives, a vet deadens the lower leg using a medial palmar digital block, the lowest portion of the inside part of the leg. Once the region was amnestied, a vet performs another gait assessment.

A compliment to standard diagnostic tools such as gait evaluations, nerve blocks, flexion tests, and diagnostic imaging, the Krosscheck™ Leverage Testing Device (KLTD) establishes the source of a horse’s pain and lameness through the use of a wedged dial attached to a hoof boot. By elevating eight different locations around the perimeter of the hoof, a horse’s comfort and discomfort are illustrated by its reaction to pressure.  Diagnostic results become a prescription for treatment, whether prescribed by a vet or a farrier.  KLTD, designed by an internationally recognized farrier, clinician, and researcher, Gene Ovnicek, evolved over the years, but a personal experience changed his thinking permanently.

Establishing a baseline grade for the horse’s pain must be done without shoes and before attaching the KTLD boot to the hoof. If testing the right foot, the left foot is elevated to determine the horse’s comfort on the weight-bearing foot. If a baseline is graded at 0 or neutral, there is no evident pain standing barefoot. Once the horse is fitted with the Krosscheck™ boot and the boot is aligned with the center of the distal interphalangeal joint, the foot is placed on the ground allowing the horse to adjust to wearing the mechanism.

By moving the wedged dial around the right hoof in eight different positions. The farrier must be careful to approach the horse and pick up the left foot, in the same way each time the dial (wedge) is moved. By holding the leg for a few seconds before placing it down on the ground, the farrier evaluates how quickly the horse willingly puts its foot down and how much the horse unloads the other foot with the leverage device.

A legend on the KLTD data collection sheet guides both the farrier and the vet when determining how to grade a horse’s physical response. The pattern of leverage placement begins at the heel, with a horse’s comfort graded on a -3 or strong dislike to a +3, strong like scale. As the wedge is shifted on the medial and lateral locations on the hoof, a pattern indicating the precise location of the injury slowly develops.

A novel approach to diagnosis and treatment of lameness, the KLTD system integrates the perspectives of veterinarians, farriers, and trainers and gives voice to the horse owner, the person often most acquainted with a horse’s movement and skill. The system not only builds a cohesive team for evaluating and treating injured horses but offers the potential for a better understanding of how a horse’s natural comfort level defines how horses are trimmed and shod, too. An inexpensive option for understanding the sources of soft tissue lameness, the innovative diagnostic also shows promise when used in partnership with MRI scans in the future.

Stay safe, stay horsey!