Olympic dressage combination, Totilas and his rider, Edward Gal, were forced to retire from the European Championships earlier this week when it became apparent that the stallion was markedly lame behind. This followed much controversy earlier during the event when the vet’s inspection determined that the horse was sound and allowed him to go forward to the competition. Despite being obviously lame during his first test, only one of the five judges presiding actually penalized the horse. The knowledgeable crowd booed the judging and Gal was left with no alternative but to withdraw from the remainder of the classes. But is hind limb lameness really that hard to detect?
Hind Limb Lameness Signs
Hind limb lameness can be difficult to spot, especially in the early stages of a chronic condition onset. The horse may feel and look ‘right’ for the majority of the time. Check over the horse’s legs for obvious lumps, bumps and heat. If there’s nothing obvious, look at his movement.
Listen carefully to the horse being trotted up on a hard, level surface. You can clearly hear if he is favoring one foot over another and placing more weight on it. Look to see that both hind feet track up evenly and that there is no stiffness in the limb flight or toe drag as the horse brings his hind leg through. In advanced dressage horses, a reluctance to engage the hind legs and take the weight back is a clear sign that there may be a problem.
On the lunge, the horse may prefer to canter than to trot in order to try to avoid placing weight on the affected hind leg.
When the horse is trotted away from you in a straight line, his reluctance to bear weight on the affected limb will make it appear that the hip on the lame side is rising higher than the one on the side that remains unaffected. This is particularly noticeable when working him on a circle.
In cases where a horse is very lame behind, he might nod his head each time the lame leg touches the ground. This can cause confusion as it initially appears that the problem is with a front leg.
In the case of Totilas, it’s hard to believe that his grooms, his rider, the other German team members, the event vets and four international judges all failed to spot that the horse was lame behind when several hundred spectators did; this failure has no place in international equestrian competition. Let’s hope that everyday riders are more concerned about their horses’ welfare than winning ribbons and medals.
Image source: http://www.wbfsh.org/GB/News/2009/27%28x0x%2908%28x0x%292009 Moorlands Totilas recognized by KWPN.aspx">wbfsh.org
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