Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Rolling (in Adult)

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

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

  • If you are convinced this is a sign of colic (abdominal pain).
  • If you notice other signs of abdominal pain (colic).
  • 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.

Horses lie down and roll for a variety of reasons. The key is distinguishing between “normal” (pleasure rolling) and rolling that results from pain or illness. Generally, horses lie down and roll for pleasure and to scratch an itch. They tend to roll after tack is removed to ease irritation from drying sweat, and they often roll after a bath. Many horses roll to gain temporary relief from flies and other insects.

Horses also roll, sometimes violently and repeatedly, when they are suffering from abdominal pain (colic). A horse that is covered in shavings or other bedding has been down and has probably rolled.

There is a great fear among horse people that if their horse rolls, it will twist the intestine. This may be true but we also do know that horses can twist their large colon without rolling. If the horse lies quietly, let them lie. If they consistently roll, get them up and walk them. Use caution when handling horses in severe colic pain. They can drop quickly and injure their handlers.


Try to differentiate between rolling as normal behavior and as a sign of an underlying problem. Horses that roll for pleasure may roll a few times, then roll to their chest and rise, and usually shake off. They have a calm and happy demeanor. A horse that is in colic pain will rarely shake off. Instead they will stay down and continue rolling or get back to their feet and quickly prepare again to go down.

Consider the nature of your horse’s behavior. Are they rolling in a typical location and at a typical time? Or are they rolling at an odd time of day, or in a location where you have never seen them do this before? If you have a doubt, get the horse up and observe them for a while. Do they lie down or roll again?

Assess their general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to heart rate, gum color, and gut motility. Assess appetite by offering a handful of feed. Watch for other signs of colic pain. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.


Your vet differentiates rolling as a result of colic from other causes. For a horse that is repeatedly rolling in colic pain, your vet may need to sedate or otherwise restrain the horse in order to properly examine it.

Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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