One-third of the horses in the United Kingdom are lame, according to the recently released National Equine Health Survey.

The survey, conducted annually by Blue Cross in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association, found that the five most frequently recorded individual disease syndromes were lameness (not laminitis), 26.1%; laminitis, 6.8%; sweet itch, 6.8%; mud fever, 6.8%; and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), or equine Cushing’s disease, 6.6%. Lameness, sweet itch and PPID also were in the top 5 in 2015.

According to a report prepared by Josh Slater, a member of BEVA’s Health and Medicines Committee and a professor at the Royal Veterinary College, 47.4% of lamenesses were recorded as proximal limb lameness, 31.9% were foot lamenesses other than laminitis, while another 20.7% were from laminitis. Degenerative joint disease, including the foot and proximal limb, is the most frequently reported cause of lameness at 41.2%. The joint most affected by degenerative joint disease (DJD) is the hock at 15.3% of all lameness.

Foot lameness, not including laminitis, more than doubled in 2016 to 10.5% from 4.5% in 2015. Pus in the foot was the most frequently recorded problem.

“The data gleaned from the survey remains consistent year on year, confirming the reliability of our findings for benchmarking, referencing and research,” Slater wrote. “This year’s increase in overall lameness may be in part attributed to the higher incidence of pus in the foot, but may also be because owners are becoming more aware of lameness issues. Ongoing research on lameness has generated significant media coverage over the past year, helping to raise understanding of the importance of accurate diagnosis and treatment, both from welfare and performance perspectives.”

The survey experienced a 13.8% increase in participation over 2015. Some 5,635 people took part in the 2016 survey, and included 16,751 horses — an increase of 12% over 2015.

“The significant increase in participation again this year shows that owners and keepers of horses are really getting behind the survey and recognizing its importance in safeguarding the future health of the UK’s horses,” says Gemma Taylor, education officer at Blue Cross. “Over the past year, NEHS data has been referred to in leading equestrian and veterinary media, showing its credibility as a valuable benchmarking reference.”

Among other distal limb-related findings:

• 42% of laminitis cases were first episodes, while 58% were repeat episodes. These results were similar to previous years — 41% first episodes and 60% repeat episodes in 2015; 43% first episodes and 67% repeat episodes in 2014.

• Flexor tendon injuries and suspensory ligament injuries were reported with a prevalence of 1.6% and 2% respectively (accounting for 5% and 6.1% of all lameness reported). 

• The prevalence of different causes of lameness was consistent across different disciplines with a similar prevalence of laminitis, foot lameness, flexor tendon injury, suspensory ligament injury and degenerative joint disease in horses used mainly for hacking, leisure riding and dressage.

• The prevalence of different causes of lameness was similar in horses used for different activities. In horses whose main use was hacking, laminitis had a prevalence of 10.5%, foot lameness (not laminitis) was 18.5%; flexor tendon and suspensory ligament injuries had a prevalence of 4.9% and proximal limb DJD had a prevalence of 16.8%. For leisure riding, these figures were 9.8% (laminitis), 15.9% (foot, not laminitis), 4.7% (flexor tendon and suspensory) and 26.5% (proximal limb DJD). For dressage, these figures were 7.9% (laminitis), 20% (foot, not laminitis), 3.8% (flexor tendon and suspensory) and 17.5% (proximal limb DJD).

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