Horse Riding



Disease of Horses

Stringhalt is a very distressing disease for horse and owner.

Luckily, horses do recover from stringhalt and can return to their normal athletic pursuits after a period of time.

Signs of Stringhalt

The clinical signs of stringhalt basically involve an exaggerated lifting of each hind leg as the horse moves forwards and backwards. In very severe cases, the horse will go to walk off and get one leg stuck up under it's belly, as though the leg was glued there. In such cases, horses can often only move with a bunny hopping motion where they have both back legs up in the air at once and paddle along on their front legs.

In mild cases, exaggerated lifting of the leg is only obvious under special circumstances, such as when the horse goes backwards, is upset, turns sharply sideways, or in cold weather.

Mild cases are often first noticed when a horse is backed off a float, and in severe cases the horse cannot go backwards at all. The severity of the signs in a horse can be quite varied and are made worse by cold, excitement and alterations to daily routine.

This high stepping gait is accompanied by wastage of muscles in the hind limbs. Affected horses will have muscle wastage in the gaskin area just above the hock and between the shoulders, and these are occasionally accompanied by changes in the forelimb gait.

Stringhalt Disease in Horses

Another important consequence of stringhalt in athletic horses is that many of them become roarers. A degree of laryngeal paralysis is common and some horses that have been affected with stringhalt need sugery to repair the laryngeal function.

The high stepping hind limb is caused by a degeneration in the long nerves of the horse's hind limb. This is the reason for the muscle wastage and the abnormal movement of the leg. However the nerves and muscles can regenerate if given sufficient time and unlike many other disease of the nervous system horses can recover from stringhalt.

Stringhalt Treatment

The signs of stringhalt commonly become more severe the first month after the disease is noticed, but then a gradual recovery takes place. Some horses have recovered within two weeks while others have taken two years but the most common recovery period is six to nine months.

Many horses can be used fully some months before thay are completely recovered, because by that stage most horses have only minimal alterations in gait.

In the initial stages it is best to remove the horse from the paddock and supply it with some hard feed. Horses have recovered while remaining in the same paddock and as the disease is a seasonal one, it is likely that the causative factors may only persist for a short time in the paddock.

If horses are removed from the paddock in which the disease occurs, they can be safely returned after autumn break.

Horse With Stringhalt

Stringhalt Disease in Horses

Many horses recover without treatment at all, but in others a variety of treatments are used. Surgery has been popular, involving the removal of a portion of an extensor tendon over the hock, but this has very unpredictable results. The success rate of surgery doesn't really justify its use apart from selective cases where it may be neccesary to improve the quality of life of the horse.

Stringhalt Disease
If you need to move a horse affected by stringhalt, sedating the horse is often wise as this tends to reduce the severity of the signs.

Drug Options
The use of high doses of B vitamins, particularly B1 (thiamine), is popular with some veterinarians and can be given either orally or by injection.

There may be some benefit in the use of high doses of vitamin E, which is also used as a therapy for some disorders of long nerves in humans and other animals. Magnesium has also been suggested as a therapy but there is no evidence to support the claims.

Remember, the horse isn't in any pain or distress and that recovery, given enough time is the general rule.

Stringhalt Causes

A great deal of research has taken place in recent years, but the cause of stringhalt is still unclear.

Some of the risk factors have been identified, with the disease principally occurring in larger adult horses during late summer and autumn, in dry years and in horses grazing in relatively poor paddocks. The plant flatweed is commonly found in paddocks in which stringhalt occurs.

These paddocks often have large, bare areas and tend to be weed dominated. The disease most commonly occurs in horses that are not receiving a significant amount of hand feeding.

Stringhalt occurs sporadically and the average incidence is about 10-15 per cent in a group of horses. Just because one horse in a paddock gets stringhalt, doesn't mean the others will, although it is a sign that mangement changes are needed to minimise the risks. In some cases the disease has recurred in the same paddock in successive years, but most often it occurs as an isolated case.

If a horse has had stringhalt once, it is unlikely to get it again. There also appears to be some geographic areas where the diseas is more common, and thoroughbreds and draught breeds seem to be at greater risk of contracting the disease than other breeds.

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