Gait abnormalities in horses can lead to compromised performance, increased risk of injury, and in some cases, may necessitate early retirement from work. These disorders often present similarly to lameness, but do not necessarily involve pain.

While minor conformational faults are responsible for some abnormal equine movement patterns, changes in gait can also indicate a significant medical issue. Common causes of gait abnormalities include neurological diseases, muscular disorders, nerve damage, arthritis, and soft tissue injuries.

Early detection and appropriate treatment are key to managing these conditions effectively. The prognosis for a return to full function depends on the underlying cause.

Understanding standard gait movement patterns and the typical presentation of common gait disorders can help you determine when to call your veterinarian. Keep reading to learn how to recognize and manage common causes of gait abnormalities in horses.

Gait Abnormalities in Horses

Gait abnormalities refer to any deviation from the normal movement patterns typically exhibited by horses during walking, trotting, cantering, or galloping.

These abnormalities can include asymmetries and exaggerated movement patterns, uneven stride lengths, toe dragging, frequent stumbling, stiffness, altered head or neck positions, and other changes in stride quality.

These abnormalities not only affect the horse’s ability to move smoothly and efficiently, but also can impacting their overall health and well-being. Some gait abnormalities prevent horses from working or participating in competitive activities.

Irregular gaits can stem from various causes, including musculoskeletal issues, neurological impairments, hoof and foot problems, or congenital conditions. In the following sections, we discuss gait abnormalities caused by conformation faults, neuromuscular disorders and muscle and tendon issues.

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts Spotify Youtube
Mad Barn - Equine Nutrition Consultants | Mad Barn Canada

Conformation Faults

Your horse’s conformation can significantly influence his movement. Correct legs enable hooves to leave the ground symmetrically, travel straight, and land with minimal stress on the limb’s bones, joints, and soft tissues. [1]

In reality, many horses have less-than-perfect foot-flight patterns. While some conformational faults can increase the risk of lameness, most minor deviations don’t significantly affect your horse’s soundness and performance.

Forelimb Gait Abnormalities

Dishing is a common forelimb gait abnormality in horses characterized by an inward circular hoof motion during each stride. Exaggerated dishing is called “winging in.

Paddling is an outward deviation of the lower foreleg during flexion while the horse is in motion. Winging is an exaggerated version of paddling noticeable in horses with elevated knee action.

Pigeon toes, or toed-in hoof conformation, is associated with dishing and paddling. Angled-in conformation originating from the knees or fetlock joints is more likely to produce movement deviations. [2]

Many Spanish breeds tend to paddle with their front legs in the trot. Good farrier care is essential for these horses, but sometimes corrective shoeing can do more harm than good if your horse is sound in his normal movement patterns.

Horses with forelimb dishing are also more likely to strike themselves and may benefit from wearing