Sidewinder Gait Bears Startling Similarity To Its Namesake - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Sidewinder Gait Bears Startling Similarity To Its Namesake

Named for the venomous snake, older horses afflicted with sidewinder syndrome have hindquarters that list to one side when they walk. This condition can be challenging to diagnose as there isn't a lot of research available on the abnormality, says New Bolton Center's Dr. Amy Johnson. The movement is considered a syndrome because it is a symptom and not a disease in itself and has different potential causes.

Johnson sees sidewinder gait come on suddenly in horses that are in their late teens and older. The affected horse's hind legs move so significantly to the side that the horse travels on three tracks. If the horse is drifting to the left, the left hind foot will be away from the body and the right hind will be in line with the left front when walking.

[Story Continues Below]

When standing still, the affected horse often weights one hind leg more than the other – often the one that is closest to the body. Some sidewinder horses will spin in a circle when they walk or lean against a wall or fence to support their weak side.

Some causes of sidewinder gait include EPM, arthritis, or fractures. It's important to complete tests to determine if the cause is neurologic or musculoskeletal. Some horses have an acute onset of the gait abnormality, but may recover and go back to normal; the gait may or may not return. If it does come back, the hind end doesn't always track to the same side as before. Johnson hypothesizes that these cases may be caused by degenerative, age-related changes that create intermittent muscle spasms. Weather may also play a role, as Johnson sees more sidewinder gait in colder months. She believes this may be caused by aggravated arthritis or horses that are slipping on bad footing.

Often the older horses that develop sidewinder gait are euthanized, and even in necropsies it isn't always apparent what caused the gait abnormality.

Prognosis for complete recovery is poor. Some horses improve with exercise, while others need stall rest to avoid exacerbating the condition. Steroid use can cause issues in older horses that are already prone to endocrine issues and laminitis.

EPM is the only disease associated with sidewinder gait that can be treated. For horses with an inconclusive reason for the abnormal gait, it's difficult to predict which will improve and whether improvement will be permanent.

Read more at EquiMed.

Paulick Report Icon

Receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts, promotions, and much more!

Ask Ray?

Have a question for Ray that you'd like answered? Have a news tip? Ray will go to his network of sources in pursuit of an answer.

Ask Ray