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Dan C., DVM
Dan C., DVM, Horse Veterinarian
Category: Horse Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 1177
Experience:  Solo Equine Practitioner/Mobile Practice Owner for 16 years.
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How would I know if my horse has a pelvic fracture or simple

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How would I know if my horse has a pelvic fracture or simple soft tissue damage. He fell, favoured his rear left leg on the way to the paddock and, when I arrived an hour later, would not move to greet me at the gate like he always does... even when he had an infection in the leg he greeted me. His leg is colder to touch than the others, but not swollen. When made to move he puts no weight on it and doesn't bend it... it kinda swings (maybe drags?) outward. He has full range of motion (front, back, under and across) with no apparent signs of pain... ears back some, but not pinned, not trying to get away. The vet believed that since he walked back it is likely tissue damage, but the stable owner's wife spoke to him... not me. He did, though, suggest that he didn't likely need to see him. What's your instinct?

Hi, Angella:


Based on your description of your horse's condition, there could be one of several possible explanations for his behavior. It concerns me in your description that he is dragging the leg more than carrying it, for this can be indicative of nerve damage. Normally when there is a fracture involved the horse will carry the limb, as he still has the nerve/muscle function to lift the limb off of the ground and avoid the pain of weight-bearing. With nerve damage, the horse has lost the awareness of where his leg is in space, and drags the limb along with him as he has no sense of where it is.

If your horse is still continuing this behavior, I'd definitely recommend having him seen by your vet. To assess for a pelvic fracture, it is often possible to make the diagnosis by performing a rectal exam as the horse is walking. The majority of the time it is possible to feel the fracture moving (crepitus) as the horse walks. To differentiate from nerve damage, your vet should be able to perform a series of neurological tests which will indicate whether or not your horse has spatial awareness. If both of those tests are inconclusive, the hopefully we're just looking at muscle soreness from the trauma! In any instance, however, it would be best to have your horse seen, especially if the condition hasn't improved or is worsening.


I hope this has helped, and please let me know if you have further questions.


Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX of luck!

Dan C., DVM and other Horse Veterinary Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Thanks... and I am going to let them know I want the vet out there first thing this morning. Actually, I did forget to mention that Kerri-lee did apply pressure to the back of the leg and get him to lift the foot on his own. Does that make it less likely to be nerve damage?



The fact that he was able to lift his leg following direct pressure is a good indicator of normal nerve function. Let's hope that that is the case and that we're dealing with a soft tissue injury only!


Thanks for the accept, and I hope all turns out well for you and your horse today!



I appreciate the update, Angella. Please let me know the outcome!



Customer: replied 8 years ago.

Well, he's home. He has definitely broken the pelvis... close the hip, but the vet can't tell exactly where as it was a rectal exam. No flipping him over to x-ray. I decided it was too dangerous.


He's alert... back to his arrogant, impatient, demanding self (19 month old arab stud colt). He is not liking to swing or move the leg, but is putting some weight on it... I've put him on glucosamine, OCD pellets (anecdotal evidence of it helping fractures in racehorses), foal/weanling feed, flax, and elk velvet antler with plans to bring in equine massage therapists and/or chiropractors as it heals. Put softstall flooring (amazing stuff... can almost sleep on it... highly recommend it), heat and surveillance in his stall... and now we wait.


The vet's prognosis is that if he takes care of himself, he will heal.


Thank you for the help. :)



Thanks for the update, although I wish it were better news. Pelvic fractures are not common occurrences, so I was hoping for something like severe bruising. At any rate, your vet is right in that the best plan is rest and more rest. You sound like a devoted owner, so I'm sure you will do all that you can to help him "take care of himself"......


Best of luck with him, and I'll be looking for an update in 6-8 months!



Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Well, he's definitely going to make it!

He went from dead lame to walking... walking defined as picking up and placing one foot, then the other, bearing full weight on each leg... three weeks to the day of the injury.

He has since begun to sleep on the bad side as opposed to the good side, run in his stall (they're huge stalls) and is even rearing up. He has scratched his belly withi his good foot and even scared 10 years off the end of my life by falling in his stall while running around like a mad fool (excited to see me) without re-injuring himself. He is now on a hand walking program.

I could be wrong... and throwing my money away (to the tune of about 200 to 300 per month) on supplements, but I truly believe there is something in my hodgepodge of ingredients that has to be helping him heal to see this much recovery so quickly.. especially since the first vet wanted to put him down, and the second one, while adopting a "wait and see" attitude, did caution me that he'd had a warmblood filly in the week before showing the same symptoms who did not make it.

Not only do I get to keep him, but the stable owner tells me when he's in cleaning the stall he has seen Ali, when distracted by the horses outside, standing square on the hind end with his hips dead level!

That being the case, I might even be able to put my arrogant little big man in the show ring :)

And, there are no negative effects to the other leg... laminitis, blowing out the good leg due to his youth, pastern issues, etc... and if there is muscle atrophy it is minimal... and I'm not sure how much is atrophy from disuse, and how much is excess muscle on the other side from supporting all the weight.

I'm currently looking to bring in massage therapists and/or an osteopath to work the muscles and fascia and doing some rehab work to restore range of motion at the walk... although I suspect just walking him around will help as well.

I remember hugging him in the vet's stable and breathing in the smell of my boy... trying to get in enough to remember cause I just might not get to keep him. I'm so grateful that I get to keep more of this horse of my dreams and my heart than just the memories.

Thank you for being there... and for providing an alternative to letting my vet flip him over and x-ray.

Hello, Angella!


Thank you so much for the happy update. I'd been wondering how you and Ali were doing. It's great news that he's responding so well, and it sounds as if he's on his way to full recovery. As far as having another specialist take a look at him, I think that a certified equine osteopath could help tremendously. I work with one on a regular basis, and have seen multiple horses with "mystery" lamenesses recover fully after one or two treatments. It certainly wouldn't hurt to have one take a look. Let me know if you do, and what the findings are.


So thanks again, and keep up the great work.




(I'm glad his smell will be around for years to come for you too.)