Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Reluctant to Move or Walk

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the behavior is persistent and the horse seems to be distressed.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
  • If the horse seems stiff, or digital pulse is present.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
  • If the situation has improved but you have lingering questions.

This complaint can result from a variety of underlying causes including severe foot pain, lameness, muscle pain (tying-up) abdominal pain (colic), or lack of proper halter training. If you notice your horse is reluctant to walk or move forward, that is a good starting point for additional observations.

The goal is to determine whether this is a behavioral issue or whether it results from pain or illness. Some conditions that are painful enough to cause a horse not to want to walk can be life-threatening.


Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and pay special attention to their feet. Lift each of them and inspect the sole for stones or packed material. If the horse has been exercised, also inspect the rear part of the back – the loin and hip for swelling or pain. This is a common area for muscle swelling and pain in horses that are “tying up”.

Does the horse resist having you lift the feet? Does the horse resist turning one way or the other more than walking straight forward? Do you feel a digital pulse or heat in the feet? Is the horse showing any signs of abdominal pain (colic)? Do you notice swelling or pain in the loin? Also carefully inspect tack and the mouth.

When encouraging a resistant horse to move forward pull slightly to one side rather than trying to pull directly forward. If a horse will not lead, you might also try to chase or drive them forward to evaluate their response. Promptly share your findings and concerns with your vet.


Your vet’s approach is to assess general health, and pay particular attention to pain-causing conditions of the limbs. The diagnosis of “Tying up” may need to be ruled out as well.

Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

Laminitis, Acute
Sole, Foot or Hoof Abscess
Laminitis, Chronic
Tying-Up, Recurrent Exertional Rhabdomyolysis
Sole, Foot, Corn or Heel Bruise
Horseshoe Nail "High" or "Hot"
Hoof Pain After Trimming or Shoes Pulled
Exhausted Horse Syndrome, EHS
Clostridial, Clostridium Colitis (in Adult)
Heat Exhaustion or Stroke
Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, PSSM
Dislocated Hip, Coxo-Femoral Luxation
Wound or Laceration into Joint, Tendon Sheath or Bursa
Fracture of Scapula or Point of Shoulder
Fracture of Femur & 3rd Trochanter Fracture
Navicular Bursa Penetrated by Foreign Body
Fracture of Humerus
Fracture of Hip, Pelvis
Locoweed Toxicity
Muscle Strain of Back
Nail or Other Foreign Body Punctures Foot, Sole or Frog
Cervical Vertebral Malformation, CVM
Handler, Trainer or Rider Issue
Behavioral Change Without an Obvious Cause
Metritis, After Foaling
Fracture of Olecranon of Elbow
Joint Capsulitis, Synovitis, Tenosynovitis
Luxated Patella
Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, PPID
Trauma as Cause, Generally
Fracture of Pastern Bones
Carbohydrate or Grain Overload
Lyme Disease, Borreliosis
Fracture or Broken Bone, Generally
Endotoxemia, Endotoxic Shock
Seasonal Pasture Myopathy
Aging Changes, Generally
Pedal Osteitis, Marginal Fractures Coffin Bone
Pneumonia, Pleuropneumonia & Pleuritis, Generally
Back Pain, Generally
Saddle Fit Problem
Gastrocnemius Rupture
Intra-Muscular Injection Site Reaction
Purpura Hemorrhagica, PH
Septic or Infected Flexor Tendon Sheath (in Adult)
Infected Joint, Septic Arthritis (in Adult)
Black Walnut Shavings Toxicity
Flexor Tendon Injury, Tendinitis, Bowed Tendon
Heart Conditions, Generally
Brain, Traumatic Injury, Concussion & Brain Swelling
Cestrum Diurnum or Day Blooming Jessamine Toxicity
Bacteremia, Septicemia (in Adult)
Fracture of Neck Vertebrae
Potomac Horse Fever, Neorickettsiosis
Ruptured Prepubic Tendon
Fluoroquinolone Induced Tendinopathy
Selenium Deficiency
Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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