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Sidewinder gait in horses.



Sidewinder gait in horses is poorly understood and characterized by walking with the trunk and pelvic limbs drifting to 1 side.


To report causes, clinical and diagnostic features.


Horses examined at 2 institutions.

Materials and methods

Retrospective study (2000-2019). Cases with sidewinder gait, neurological and orthopedic examination, and diagnostic work up or postmortem evaluation were included. Descriptive statistics were performed.


Twenty-four horses (mean age 18.9 years) of various breeds and both sexes were included. Onset was acute (N = 10), subacute (N = 6), and insidious (N = 8). Electromyography and muscle biopsy supported neurologic disease and further aided in localizing site of lesion (N = 9/9). Neurologic causes included dynamic thoracolumbar spinal cord compression (N = 5), equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (N = 4, confirmed and presumed [2 each]), thoracic myelopathy of unknown etiology (N = 4), gliosis (N = 2), and thrombosis of thoracic spinal cord segments (N = 1). Non-neurologic causes included osteoarthritis of the coxofemoral joint (N = 4), multiple displaced pelvic fractures (N = 2), bilateral rupture of the ligamentum capitis ossis femoris (N = 1), and severe myonecrosis of multiple pelvic limb muscles (N = 1). Case fatality was 79%.

Conclusion and clinical importance

Sidewinder gait is usually observed in older horses and can have neurologic or musculoskeletal etiologies. Electromyography can be used as a diagnostic aid to determine neurologic versus non-neurologic disease and further localize those of neurologic origin. The condition often has a poor prognosis for function and life.

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