Sore Hooves or ?????

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Are you facing a perplexing, un-named condition with your horse's hooves? 

You keep everything immaculately clean, pick the hooves twice or more a day, have regular hoof care, the hooves are well balanced, good 'horn' quality, no plausible reasons for the odd movements here and there? One day it seems like the left front, the next day it seems like a right stifle and the day following that it looks like your horse is sore on all four. 

So what gives with THAT?

There's no food contamination of any sort, no changes in the food, the weather is not drastically altering from any one temperature to another ...

You haven't changed routines or pasture mates or even changed paddocks or stalls.

Nothing has changed! 

BUT - your horse is "off" and you can feel it when you ride and sometimes (but only sometimes) you can SEE it when he's moving at liberty.

And some days he seems perfectly normal! He's striding out fully, he's tracking up, there's no head bob or wonky gaits ...

And then there's tomorrow ...

If you live in an area of the world where there are 'Deer Ticks' (Borrelia burgdorferi) then you may be looking at Lyme Disease being exhibited in your horse. Not a nice thought but certainly a real possibility.

The ticks seem most likely to feed on horses as adults. In cold-winter regions, adults typically appear in early fall, spend the winter dormant in brush and leaf litter and come out again in early spring. This makes early spring and fall prime times for infection. But horses can get Lyme disease whenever infected ticks are active. It is close to impossible to find an actual tick or tick bite on a horse because the insect is so tiny and the coat of the horse hides them well. Careful grooming on a daily basis can help detect the tick and using an effective tick repellent can aid in keeping them off the horse to begin with.

However, Lyme Disease can be a masked bandit when it comes to horses. The symptoms can vary day to day or even more frequently. From lameness to behavioral changes, sleuthing out the issue of Lyme should be first and foremost when dealing with an undiagnosed movement issue.

"It's difficult to prove Lyme disease," says Dr. Divers. You may never see the tick that bit your horse; the ticks generally drop off after feeding. Signs of disease often don't emerge for five to six weeks after the bite, and the signs vary widely and are notoriously vague. Three common ones are stiffness in large working joints (fetlock, knee, elbow, hock or stifle, for example). Lameness that's sporadic, affects multiple sites or shifts from limb to limb is characteristic. The cause of the clinical signs is polysynovitis, inflammation in the membranes that enclose these joints, Dr. Divers says. generalized tenderness or sensitivity your horse flinches, perhaps, when you curry him, or seems to overreact to other sensory stimuli. This condition, called hyperesthesia, results from inflammation in the skin and nearby nerves. behavioral changes, such as unwillingness to work and a depressed or irritable attitude."


Lyme Disease does not come apparent as an acute situation. More likely than not, if your horse is fine one day and, the next day, dead lame on the front right, the culprit would be an abscess, not Lyme Disease.

No, Lyme is stealthy. It creeps up in terms of clinical symptoms and actually may not present with any clinical symptoms. Many times tests will come back as negative but they are really a false negative and the horse will actually have Lyme Disease. 

"Treatment of Lyme disease in horses is similar to treatment of humans or small animals but treatment success might not be the same because of species differences in antimicrobial bioavailability and duration of infection before initiation of treatment. There are no approved equine label Lyme vaccines but there is strong evidence that proper vaccination could prevent infection in horses."

While there are treatments that are recommended, the immune system of the horse must be tended carefully along with treatment. Anything that weakens the immune system must be avoided as much as possible. This means stress, diet and general husbandry needs to be carefully examined for optimal affects on the immune system.

"The immunopathology of Lyme disease in people is still being elucidated, but many human patients have increased markers of inflammation and there is a role for Th1, Th2, Th9, Th17, and T‐reg in the immunopathology of the disease.

Experimental equine infection studies and case reports are sparse, limiting our understanding of both B. burgdorferi infection and Lyme disease in horses. The high seroprevalence for B. burgdorferi in adult horses in some areas of North Americaand the paucity of documented cases of Lyme disease have made B. burgdorferi infection and Lyme disease an extremely controversial topic in equine practice."  Borrelia burgdorferi Infection and Lyme Disease in North American Horses: A Consensus Statement, 22 February 2018

If the horse is exhibiting laminitic signs then the hooves and horse need to be treated as such. (See article here: As we know, stress is a huge influence on hoof health. If the body is stressed elsewhere it likely will show up in the hooves. So one needs to be cognizant of this and quick to timely treatment of any signs of laminitis. 

There is much, much more that I could share with you all concerning Lyme Disease. This is merely a scant introduction. Living in the Northeast region of the United States (and currently just a town away from Lyme, CT where the beast first reared its ugly head), I have extensively researched Lyme. Personally, I prefer holistic treatments and have used them with success however you should always consult with your veterinarian for any lameness or odd physical symptoms that your horse is exhibiting, especially the transient ones that change frequently.

I hope this has at least given you perhaps a hint to uncover your horse's mysterious behaviors and/or lameness. I hope it is not Lyme Disease but please do not ignore the possibility and start treatment as soon as possible. WHOLE Horse support is always a good adjunct to traditional care ... homeopathy, herbs, essential oils, chiropractics, acupressure, bodywork ... with the different influences from Lyme on your horse's body, all can be of help. In the US one can find Holistic Veterinarians here: In Australia one can start to search here: 


In other countries, please google for "Holistic Veterinarians" with respect to your region. 


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:

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