What is Cross-Firing?
Cross-firing in horses is essentially a lameness issue in that the definition for lameness encompasses any stance or gait that is abnormal in a horse as it affects the locomotor system. The cause of the abnormality of the stance or gait can be structural, metabolic or a result of a disease process as well as genetic or acquired in nature. It can be a condition that will eventually become a permanent lameness and interfere with the normal conformation and work performance of your horse or it may be something which can be managed to allow your animal to remain functional and productive.
Cross-firing is a term used to describe a diagonal lack of coordination of the horse’s front and hind legs in which the hind legs on one side make contact with the front legs on the other side in various gaits or strides and sometimes in varying speeds of movement. Leg interruption and cross cantering are other terms used to describe essentially the same type of movement or gait.
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Symptoms of Cross-Firing in Horses
Generally, you can note structural abnormalities by visual observation of the hind quarters of the horse. Things to note are:
- When viewed from the rear, the hind leg should be straight from the buttock to the hoof (draw an imaginary line from one point to the other and it should be straight)
- When viewed from the side a similar straight alignment should be present between the point of the buttock, the point of the hock and the back of the fetlock
- You will likely notice wounds on the legs where the actual contact is made on the leg or hoof of the horse
The hind legs of your horse are the most powerful and strongest portions of the animal. They are responsible for the powerful thrust of forward motion as the horse moves and works and they bear the most weight of the animal especially when stopping. Abnormalities in the hind quarters of horses of basically of two types:
- Base wide conformation - defined as the hind feet being too far apart when compared to the distance between the legs at the thigh region- examples of this are cow hocked and sickle hocked
- Base narrow conformation - defined as a condition in which the hind feet as too close together when compared to the distance between the center of the legs at the hock and thigh region - an example of this type is bowlegged hocked
Causes of Cross-Firing in Horses
Any lameness or abnormality of stance or gait in a horse, of which cross-firing is one, can be the result of a number of causes. Lameness is not a disease in actuality but rather is a clinical sign of something abnormal that is going on within. Some of the causes of cross-firing in horses are:
- Two leads (the manner in which all four legs work in unison) - the lead being a term used to describe the leg (right or left) on which the horse starts and when there are two leads, the horse is using one leg (right or left) to start off with in the front and another (right or left) in the rear
- Lack of balance and muscle control which may be present intermittently or constantly
- Pain from an injury
- Improper body alignment of the horse
- Incorrectly shoeing or fit of the saddle
- Less than desirable training of the handler (abusive, poorly trained, poor riding skills)
- Improper training for the horse
Diagnosis of Cross-Firing in Horses
Your veterinary professional will need to establish the reason for the cross-firing gait in your horse. Since there are a number of causes behind this condition, treatment cannot be initiated until a cause has been at least preliminarily determined. Your equine veterinarian will need to do a physical examination of the horse in which he will be looking for any soreness, injury or any behavior or sign that shows presence of pain in the horse. The expertise of an equine chiropractor might be utilized to determine if the cause is improper alignment in the horse’s body.
Laboratory testing might be ordered to rule out any systemic disease process as a cause. X-rays or radiographs might also be used to assess the skeletal structure of the horse’s body. Once a cause, at least a preliminary one, has been established, then your veterinary caregiver can recommend a treatment plan and guide in its administration. Recommendations can include systemic treatments or changes in the environment and exercise habits of your horse.
Treatment of Cross-Firing in Horses
Treatment of cross-firing in your horse will depend ultimately on the cause of the gait abnormality. The first line treatment if the cause is found to be pain would be to assess the condition and the appropriate fit of items of tack (bridle, reins, saddle) as well as the fit of the horse’s shoes. Making adjustments in these areas could eliminate the irritation being caused by this equipment and reduce the discomfort being caused by them.
If the cause is determined to a training issue, some retraining with emphasis being placed on reteaching the horse better lead change behaviors and retraining the handler would require some of this same emphasis. If the cause is a disease process, treatment of the disease process which may require oral or injected medications, or even surgery of various types, would be necessary.
Recovery of Cross-Firing in Horses
Recovery and the prognosis of the cross-firing issue with your horse will, again, depend on the reason it is occurring. For those conditions which are caused by genetics, there may be a surgical correction option available to realign the horse’s body. This might improve the horse’s ability to perform his work function more easily. If it is a disease process at the root of the cross-firing issue, treatment if possible is necessary and the prognosis for this will be based upon the nature of the disease process involved.
Every attempt will be made by your veterinary professional to return your horse to as normal a capacity as possible and the best possible avenue to accomplish this may not necessarily be a direct route but may require a step process to complete. Be patient with whatever the treatment options are, especially as they apply to any retraining of the horse or the handler.
Cross-Firing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
HI,MY HORSE HIT HIS FRONT LEFT SHIN WHEN HE RACE HOW CAN I STOP IT ,
I HAD A CHIROPRACTOR TO HIM HE SAID HE WAS OUT IN THE BACK HIND LEGS BUT HE IS STILL HITTING HIM SELF WHAT CAN I DO CHEERS
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After doing some medium to advanced dressage work with my horse he has had problems keeping his lead when slowing down from a fast canter to a medium and slow canter and wants to pop up in the back and cross fire. He's in great physical health and we had a chiro look at him; everything checked out. Any ideas?
Were you able to see your veterinarian? If so, what was the diagnosis. I have a similar condition with one of my horses.
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