QUESTION: 3 months ago, I purchased a 7-year-old, green broke Thoroughbred gelding. I noticed when I ride him that his rear end slips sometimes, then a friend saw his back leg slip out. I got off and pulled his tail to the left and he did not move when I pulled his tail to the right he swayed, not sure of his history, could be a race track injury. Also I had a new farrier and I think he cut his hoofs to short and I think it made him ouchy. He was favoring his back leg a little, no swelling or anything. My Question is just what is “Wobblers Syndrome” and the symptoms? Thank you.

ANSWER: Wobbler Syndrome is thought to be hereditary. It is found in young growing horses. Due to malformation of the vertebrae in the neck there is excessive mobility of these vertebrae so that undue pressure is placed on parts of the spinal cord. This excessive spinal cord pressure leads to interference with various Neural (brain impulse) pathways and so results in the typical wobbly gait. In other cases there may be no abnormalities of the neck vertebrae and the primary lesion may be within the spinal cord itself.

The symptoms are the Wobblers gait which is quite characteristic and is most severe in the hind limbs. Affected horses will frequently crossover their hind limbs and sometimes drag their toes as they bring their legs forward. In a minority of cases, the forelimbs will also be affected.

A definite diagnosis is important and x-raying is the only way to know for sure. The x-rays will also rule out trauma induced lesions to the spinal cord or fractures of the neck vertebrae which are the main cause of the sudden appearance of an unsteady gait in an older, mature horse. Since Wobblers Syndrome is thought to be hereditary and cannot be corrected, most young horses diagnosed with it are put down. Older horses that have suffered trauma to the spinal cord or neck vertebrae may be helped by long periods of confined stall rest (up to a year) and sometimes assistance by a Veterinary Surgeon in repair.

Since your horse is 7 years old, my suggestion is to have the x-rays done to see if he has suffered such trauma and whether he can be brought back to soundness or at least a higher degree of soundness.

Many horses slip and fall on poor ground footing resulting in trauma to their spinal cords. (Often when we are not even there to see it). It also happens going over jumps, a severe blow to the back or neck top line, etc. Mares are known to suffer spinal cord injury when being bred. By the stallion’s front feet striking their spinal column by accident.

I do not think your horse has Wobblers Syndrome. It may be incorrect trimming by the farrier BUT more than likely an injury to the horse’s muscles/joint(s) in that leg or a spinal cord injury.

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