How do I inspect my horse’s legs daily? What am I looking for?
Your horse’s legs are a vital part of his health, and it can take only a few minutes a day to make sure all is OK. If you find something, it’s often in the very early stages and you can nip whatever it is in the bud. All you need is your hands, eyes, and a few minutes. I start my leg inspection of the horses first thing in the morning during the first chores. As I toss hay, feed buckets, fill water buckets, you can do a visual exam of the legs. For horses that tend to stock up at night, remove the standing wraps (if you use them) at this point and see how the legs look. My technique for inspecting legs is shown in the video below!
Start high! Use both hands! Memorize those legs!
When it’s time to do a hand walk, tack up, or turn out, the first thing I do before moving a horse is pick his feet. This gives you a chance to make sure the shoes are where they are supposed to be. If your horse is barefoot, it gives you a chance to check for chips or snags along the hoof. This also your chance to make sure there is no discernible heat in the hoof. Heat in the hoof could be nothing, or it could be an abscess, or it could be laminitis. Finding these things early lets you intervene early and increases the chance of a positive outcome.
Check for heat. Compare to the other hooves. Take action if those feet are warm or hot!
Check your horse's digital pulse - most horses have a barely noticeable digital pulse. A more noticable pulse can indicate trouble in the hoof. Act now! (Video below)
Picking the hooves also gives you the chance to do a quick run down of the legs and tendons. In the cross ties, you can go over the legs once again more thoroughly in proper light. I tend to inspect my horses legs from the elbow and stifle down, as you can find shoe boils in the elbows that way. Use both hands on each leg and look for the following:
- Possible windpuffs or a change in existing windpuffs
- Cuts and scrapes
- Bugs (like ticks)
- Areas of tenderness
- Dry/flaky skin
- Anything new
Get to know those tendons!
For the most part, the everyday stuff like scrapes or bugs can be taken care of easily. You will need to decide if swelling, heat, or tenderness warrants a call to your Veterinarian. These are often signs of soft tissue injuries, which can be as simple as a tiny cut that gets swollen or a major tendon tear.
I always repeat this process after a horse is exercised, before you move on to icing, poultice, wrapping, or whatever is the plan for that day!