Horse Health

The Lameness Detective

“Visualizing lameness is an art,” Dr. Larry Caudill tells me on a bitter winter morning at the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington, KY. Nearby, a cavalcade of hooves pepper the pavement as a group of horses cool down from a morning gallop, steam rising off their backs like hard earned fog. The cold air has them feeling full of themselves and frisky.

“It takes practice, practice, practice,” he continues. “But in order to get good at it you have to have some basic working principles.”

Like all equine athletes, racehorses are susceptible to performance related injuries, and they know how to hide it from the untrained eye. Caudill has honed his “sixth sense of lameness” through thousands of evaluations in his decades in the field, balancing input from riders and trainers with his own observations and expertise.

“One of the old rules of thumb is a little phrase ‘down on sound,'” Caudill explains during one of many visual evaluations on the day. “Their weight distribution goes down into their sound leg. Often times riders will feel that, but they don’t always understand that that’s the good leg.”

Back in the barn, Caudill gets to work on the horse’s legs for a flexion and palpation test, feeling for heat, inflammation and looking for pain response.

“When you’re trying to sort something out and find the problem, and you’ve got no leads…you get into the realm of diagnostic blocking, where you numb certain areas and jog them again…and see if you have an improvement or not. If you do, that region is your area. If you don’t, you move on to the next spot.”

It’s a process that is altogether routine and uniquely challenging. Keeping horses happy and sound is paramount in horse sports, and while some cases are open and shut, many others require good old-fashioned detective work.

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