updated: 2022-02-09 11:16:14

It is described by many veterinary manuals as a non-painful neuropathic condition, characterised by an abnormal hindlimb gait. This involuntary movement is usually an exaggerated upward movement of one or both hindlimbs, similar to a jerk/hop in a snapping motion towards the abdomen. It is most common in walk but can also be seen in other gates, just usually to a lesser extent.
There are various degrees of hyperflexion but they are generally most obvious when the horse is turned sharply, backed up, going down a slope, walking the first few steps after standing still and during transitions. Stringhalt is divided into two categories, acquired and idiopathic.
The former is not usually found in this country as it results from plant toxicity and is usually temporary. The latter is most commonly caused by an injury or trauma. Interestingly this injury does not have to be of the limb concerned but can be of the back or neck too. Affected horses can also have secondary injuries resulting from the excessive forces used when stomping the leg down, this can result in concussive injuries such as a cracked or chipped pedal bone.
It is common for one hind limb to be more affected than the other and for cold weather, hard exercise, anxiety and excitement to be among the issues that intensify the clinical signs. Aside from X-rays and/or and ultrasound to rule out injuries to the muscles, tendons or hocks, additional diagnostic tests may be required to rule out muscle diseases such as PSSM (polysaccharide storage myopathy) or EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis) and distinguish stringhalt from shivers (Draper et al, 2014. Equine Veterinary Journal 47(2): 175-181).
Unfortunately there is no definitive treatment for stringhalt. Some horses may recover spontaneously whereas others may require the surgical resection of part of the muscle and tendon (myotenectomy) of the lateral digital extensor at hock level to alleviate some signs. There have been some reports as to the reduction in stringhalt-like steps following injections of Botox but the research is still ongoing (Wijnberg et al, 2009. Equine Veterinary Journal 41:313-318).
Although horses with stringhalt may not be able to return to full previous performance levels, they can still have a good quality of life. Some horses may recover in days, some in months or even years.

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