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Physical Limitations

Often, many of the horses we see through our adoption program come with some kind of physical limitation. Whether it be one they were born with, or one that is caused by repeated use or from trauma, these limitations can scare off would-be adopters who are uncertain on how to handle or deal with these limitations. Below we highlight a few of the ones that we have seen over the years, in hopes of offering a "one stop spot" for potential adopters to read up and learn a bit more about a limitation that we list for a horse up for adoption.

As with ALL of these limitations, having your veterinarian, farrier and other professionals assess and offer their advice whenever possible, will ensure you have the capability and understanding to take on a horse with a limitation.


A parrot mouth is a name for an overbite. This is a dental disease that can be found in any breed, any gender and at any age. If it is found early on in young horses, constructive surgery can be possible - but once a horse is fully developed, it cannot be fixed. The condition is caused when the bottom jaw is too short, or the top jaw is too long. Without proper treatment and maintenance, it can cause health issues such as weight loss, loss of appetite and malnutrition due to pain when chewing and the inability to chew correctly. It can also cause damage to teeth and create injuries on gums, cheeks and tongue.

Mild parrot mouth is when the upper and lower teeth meet but do not line up correctly. Outside of consistent annual dental examinations to check for hooked or ramped teeth that are not filing correctly, your horse should not need aggressive treatment unless their condition changes. Long term management means focusing on a good consistent dental float schedule and reducing any large overgrowths.

While a parrot mouth is not necessarily a major issue for most horses unless they have a severe case where their teeth do not match up at all, proper management will ensure limited pain and eliminate eating issues, which will allow your horse to continue to have a successful career in any discipline you choose!

Our current adoptable horse Taco, has a mild parrot mouth.

He was too shy to share his teeth on camera so we thank Google Images for helping!


A swayback is caused by weakened soft-tissue support in the spinal column, combined with the weight of the abdomen pulling downwards. It can also be cause by a vertebral conformational defect or potentially a trauma injury to the vertebral column.

Typically we associate a swayback with an older horse where their soft-tissue begins to loosen and create gentle angles in the spine that do not reduce a horses quality of life and do not cause pain. Older broodmares are higher risk of this as a result of carrying large loads for extended periods of time throughout their adult lives. However a swayback can also be caused in younger horses that have permanent malformations, and the condition may not progress much as time goes on. These horses can also lead happy lives but depending on the extent of the malformation, they may be prevented from performing a higher level job.

There is no "fix" for this condition but it does not necessarily mean that they are unable to perform a job, to a certain extent. Many horses do not show obvious signs of discomfort, however many horses with a swayback are not often being ridden at a high level. It is a limitation that owners should take preventative measures to stop the further deterioration of the ligaments and muscles by lowering the risk or requirement of the horse to perform at a high level and that they are kept at a healthy, safe weight to prevent stress on the spine by obesity.


If a hoof differs dramatically from another, it is likely that you are dealing with a club foot. A club foot is an abnormally upright hoof with long-contracted heels and a bulging or prominent coronary band. The shortening of the deep digital flexor muscle and tendon is what causes this limitation, so you can look at it as a deformity of the coffin joint. This limitation may sound career ending however with proper management, horses can lead comfortable, sound and even highly athletic lives.

Horses with club foot tend to land toe-first and the heels growth rate is exponentially compared to the toe, which causes hoof capsule distortion. The frog will often recede as the heel contracts, which leads to increase impact stress throughout the hoof. Older horses that have club feet often can suffer from lameness issues due to thin soles and bruising, as well as hoof cracks, and strain on the navicular bones supporting ligaments.

To help resolve a club foot as much as possible, therapeutic farrier work and trims at shorter intervals than a normal horse, will aid in keeping the foot trimmed down and working closer to a normal function. You never want to do a dramatic change to the hoof, but keep lowering the heels subtly to enhance breakover and aim to engage all of the hoof sole to be weight-bearing.

Club foot is often a deformity developed in foals, although specific causes are not truly known. Some can be caused from trauma or long-term improper hoof care or disease.


A roach back is almost always passed on through genetic deformation. It is a spinal curvature, the opposite of a swayback. The spine is either extremely straight or curved upwards. It can cause limited range of of movement and shorten the stride of a horse. There is less flexibility in the back, which can cause further movement restriction. Horses with a mild roach back will likely find activities such as jumping or collected work difficult and potentially painful, because they do not have the flexibility.

Roach backs have a range of severity - minor roach back horses can often still be ridden while those with more severe, are likely best suited as companions only. A horse with a slight roach back will need proper saddle fit to allow the horse to have as much movement as possible and fit comfortably along their spine. Alternative therapies such as chiropractic, massage, etc. are extremely helpful in managing and monitoring soreness and symptoms that can be associated with this deformation.


Ligaments are the bands of fibrous tissue that connect the bones together in a joint. Ligaments stabilize bones within joints so that horses can move around normally. The suspensory ligament in horses is primarily to support the fetlock joint and keep it from hyperextending during motion. It runs from the knee/hocks to the fetlock where it then splits off into two branched around the sesamoid bones. Suspensory injuries are common in racing and athletic horses that place a lot of strain on lower limbs. Older horses may also experience a slow dropping of the fetlock as the ligaments become stretched with age.

DSLD is not caused by trauma. Although horses with dropped suspensories due to trauma show a similar look to horses with DSLD.

DSLD is a disease that is now being more frequently recognized. It is difference from other suspensory ligament injuries. DSLD often has a slow onset and will most likely affect more than one limb - either both forelimbs, both hindlimbs, or all four. Typically horses that do show DSLD onset often have a history of lameness or swelling in their fetlocks. If the hindlimbs are affected, you can see gradual straightening of the hock angle and some horses may also show back soreness as they adjust their stance to try and keep weight off the affected limbs.

There is no cure for DSLD so most treatments focus on keeping a horse comfortable. Controlled exercise, stall rest, pain relief, supportive boots/wraps, alternative therapies, and corrective shoeing can all assist with helping a horse to be comfortable. In most cases of DSLD, the disease will worsen over time and humane euthanasia may be indicated or recommended by a veterinarian.

We see a numerous amount of Standardbreds with stretched suspensory ligaments from long racing careers or long hours spent trotting on asphalt as buggy horses - that results in a similar look to DSLD but is caused by trauma. We recommend and treat similarly to how DSLD is treated to aid in strengthening and supporting the suspensory ligaments.


Kissing spine is caused when there is touching of dorsal processes in the spine. Typically there are spaces between the processes to allow for movement. Kissing spine is very different from roach back. Horses with mild kissing spine may not show symptoms, although for those that do the signs can be extremely variable, ranging from lameness to changes in behaviour such as bucking, hollowing the back, trouble with gait transitions, etc.

The diagnosis of kissing spine can sometimes be difficult to differentiate from behavioural or training issues, or non related medical conditions. X-Rays are most often used to diagnose kissing spine. Ensure that you do a fully exam and do not simply rely just on x-rays to ensure you do not miss additional issues. Thermography can be informative in some cases to offer some insight.

Horses with kissing spine should be made comfortable through pain relief, exercises to strengthen back and abdominal muscles, muscle relaxation, shockwave therapy, anti-inflammatory injections, and potentially corticosteroid injections in the spaces between vertebrae.

Horses often can return to work with long term commitment, physical therapy and potentially medical or surgical treatment. There is a poor prognosis for horses who are young and already exhibiting signs, horses with multiple vertebrae involved, and cases where there are additional spinal issues involved.

Do you have a horse that has one of these limitations?

What have you found that works for you - treatment or exercises?

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