User Login
AT İSTANBULVeterinary Clinic

Musculoskeletal System Examination


In sport horses, the most common problems involve the musculoskeletal system. Minor problems that do not cause lameness could have an adverse effect on the horse's performance. If the existing problem causes lameness, it is very likely for the horse to suffer from pain in its legs. Any horse suffering from pain should be given rest and treated if necessary.

The veterinary surgeon establishing the treatment strategy for the horse to recover will first and foremost ask you to provide the following information:

  • Detailed information on the horse's background
  • Disciplines in which the horse is used (competition, show-jumping, dressage, endurance…)
  • Does the horse compete? The level of competition?
  • The horse's regular weekly training program

While examining the musculoskeletal system, various specific examinations are conducted with a certain strategy. They include for instance; lameness examination, back examination, and hoof examination etc.

Hareket Sistemi Muayenesi

Videotaping the horse in movement provides a great advantage. Thus, minor lameness which is not obvious to the eye at first glance could later be examined thoroughly in slow motion in the computer environment. Moreover, in various stages of the treatment, new video shoots could be made to expose the horse's recovery status more tangibly.

Lameness Examination

Unlike us humans, horses cannot indicate pain by saying "it hurts right here". Therefore, the veterinary surgeon must work systematically, eliminating the possibilities one by one.

When probing the reason for lameness, it is extremely important that the horse and its owner collaborate with the veterinary surgeon and especially be patient. Horse owners must be aware that the success rate of any treatment initiated without first making an accurate diagnosis will be indeterminate at best. The veterinary surgeon treating the horse will ask you to provide information about the horse's lameness. This period of questioning could last longer depending on the complexity of the problem.

Questions such as "When was the horse's lameness first detected? Had there been any changes in the training program of the horse before the symptoms, or was there a resting period? Do the symptoms vary with exercise or rest? etc." could be directed to the horse owner. Especially if the handler (groom), rider and trainer are not the same person, they may be asked to provide relevant information on the horse's condition.

The horse must be inspected first in walk and then in trot on solid ground and in a straight line. It is essential to ensure that the person leading the horse in trot does not hold the reins or lead rope short and tight. Otherwise, a tightly held rope or rein could prevent us from detecting the typical head nod that is a sign of minor lameness. The veterinary surgeon inspection the horse in motion must focus on singling out the lame leg, if any. The front and back legs' length of stride could be inspected from profile, and the elasticity of the back could be examined.

After establishing the lame leg, It is very important to find the exact tender area. For this purpose, the leg must be examined bottom-up starting from the hoof. Hoof tester is used for hoof examination purposes. Manual examinations (palpation) are performed to see if there is increased local temperature or swelling. Bones, joints, tendons and ligaments, muscles, blood vessels and nerve tissue are examined in detail. The reactions of the horse are examined by applying pressure with hands or fingers.

The pain reactions in the joints may be measured by provocation tests. For this purpose, one or more joints are flexed at the same time for 1 minute with a strong pressure. Immediately afterwards, the horse must be trotted to check whether the lameness grows worse.

Hareket Sistemi MuayenesiProvocation test on the left hock

In the next stage of the examination, local anesthesia could be applied in order to determine the tender area more precisely. These injections must be administered to different spots in a certain order. The veterinary surgeon must wait for about 10 minutes for the local anesthesia to kick in. Afterwards, the tissues temporarily go numb and the horse will not feel any pain at that area. If the lameness disappears, this means that that the tender area is detected.

In some stages of the examination, it may be necessary to administer intra-articular injections to anesthetize the joint. In such cases, the risk factors regarding the administration should be explained to the horse owner and the application area must be sterilized.

X-ray and/or ultrasound examinations are conducted for a more detailed investigation of the suspected areas. This allows the structural changes in the bone and soft tissues to be observed.

Hoof Examination

Hareket Sistemi Muayenesi

This examination allows us to detect whether the horse shows a pain reaction by applying pressure on certain points on the hoof.

Tendon Examination

Hareket Sistemi Muayenesi

Manual examination of tendons

The temperature, sensitivity, pain and other structural changes are inspected by means of palpation.

Back Examination


The back muscles located between the croup and neck of the horse are like the frame of the musculoskeletal system. The rider's weight is primarily taken by these muscles. Thanks to healthy and therefore elastically structured back muscles, the horse's strides lengthen and the hind legs become more engaged. Because the horse can stretch more easily, its performance as either a race horse, show-jumper or dressage horse increases.

Muscle congestions - known as stiffness in humans - also occur in the back muscles of the horse. Especially, the saddles that do not fit the back of the horse deteriorate such muscles. The saddle is like an orthopedic shoe; notwithstanding its brand or make, no matter the quality of materials of which it is made, it has to be suitable and comfortable for the horse's back. Otherwise, it will not disperse the weight of the rider equally onto the back of the horse and therefore lead to problems in this region. When assessing the saddle's fit, the structure of the withers and shoulder angle must be taken into consideration. The saddle is not the only source of problem in back muscle pain. Riding and training are also essential for muscle health.

Back muscle problems do not necessarily cause lameness. In such cases, the problem is harder to detect. An experienced rider or somebody who is familiar with the horse could get suspicious by the actions of the horse during work, in its stable and during grooming. The veterinary surgeon must be informed in such cases. It takes longer to treat undiagnosed muscle problems and/or those that remain untreated for a long time. In such cases, it becomes also harder to ensure that the previous physiological and elastic structure are regained.

Official Member of Equine Vet International®
+90 533 681 46 62 /