A Way to Assess Lameness

The vet is applying extreme flexion to the near hind.

The vet is applying extreme flexion to the near hind.

A client contacted me a few days back wanting information about the Fell Pony breed.  They had their eye on a five-year-old and had some concerns after reading my articles about maturation rate (click here and here and here if you’re interested.)  They suspected the pony was lame, but not knowing the breed, they couldn’t be certain.

After advising them to address their concerns before going through with the purchase, I shared my recent experience with a test that a vet performed during a pre-purchase exam a buyer did on one of my ponies. 

Trotting off on a hard surface after flexion will likely show if any problems exist.

Trotting off on a hard surface after flexion will likely show if any problems exist.

The test involves one person performing extreme flexion on leg joints and holding the flexion for a period of time then releasing the leg and having the horse or pony move off immediately at the trot where it can be observed.  A quick search on the internet came up with several videos on the flexion test that I saw performed.  Here are my observations based on my experience:

  • You need a minimum of two people, and three are necessary if the pony doesn’t lead at a trot willingly.  (The third will need to encourage the pony to move.)
  • You need a hard surface on which to do the test.  Any issues are more likely to show up with the concussion of moving on a hard surface.
  • Before beginning, you need to know whether you’re looking for lameness issues generally or wanting to assess certain joints; how the test is conducted varies accordingly.
  • The pony should be trotted off once away from the evaluator to provide a baseline.  This baseline will show not only how the pony moves before the test but also how it performs with the handler and if encouragement will be needed to make it move off smartly at the trot.

Here are links to the videos I found most informative:

  • This video (click here) gives a good overview of how to conduct the test.
  • This video (click here) shows a test being conducted.  You’re left to draw your own conclusions.  I thought the horse was beautiful to watch.
  • This (shorter) video (click here) also shows a test being conducted with a little more commentary.

I handled my pony when he was tested, and he passed the test in more ways than just the lameness assessment.  He led off at a trot willingly, he tolerated the extreme flexion without argument, and he didn’t express any concern about being on pavement for the first time in his life!

After explaining the flexion test to my caller, I encouraged them to have a pre-purchase exam done that included a flexion test.  They appreciated the advice, and I enjoyed helping them figure out how to articulate their concerns about the pony they wished to buy in a way that allowed them to get their concerns addressed.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013

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About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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