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Comparison of Subjective With Objective Lameness Assessments of Owner-Sound Horses at Trot on a Treadmill

Equine Department, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract Lameness is a symptom indicative of pain or injury of the locomotor apparatus. Lame horses generally should not be ridden. However, owners’ ability to assess lameness has been questioned. This study’s aim was to use subjective lameness assessments and objective gait analysis to generate a descriptive overview of movement and weight-bearing asymmetries of owner-sound riding horses. 235 horses were subjectively assessed in a field study, and the owner’s perception of their horse’s orthopedic health was recorded through an online survey. 69 horses were re-evaluated by gait analysis at an equine hospital. During trot on an instrumented treadmill, the gait was scored by a veterinarian using lameness grades from 0/5 (sound) to 3/5 (moderate lameness visible at trot). Movement asymmetry of the head (HDmin) and pelvis (PDmin) and weight-bearing asymmetry were quantified simultaneously. The prevalence of subjectively scored lameness grade ≥2/5 in one or more limbs was 55% during study part 1 and 74% during study part 2. Movement asymmetry of the head and/or pelvis exceeding HDmin ≥12 mm and/or PDmin ≥6 mm was found in 57% of the horses. 58% showed weight-bearing asymmetries between contralateral front and/or hind limbs of ≥3% body mass. Gait analysis showed considerable variability of movement and weight-bearing asymmetry values, sometimes independent of the clinical lameness grade, especially in the forehand. Several horses with lameness grade ≤1/5 had asymmetry values greater than mentioned thresholds. The analysis of movement and weight-bearing asymmetry revealed that these objective variables did not necessarily act uniformly and therefore should be interpreted with caution.

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