Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Stands with Front Limbs Crossed

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

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

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

  • If you notice apparent wobbliness or weakness, in addition to this sign.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Healthy horses rarely stand for any length of time with their front limbs crossed. It is a vulnerable stance for a horse and when placed in this stance, they usually quickly right themselves. This response is a reflex that relies on long nerve tracts that run through the spinal cord to the brain and back to the muscles that control posture. This observation is commonly associated with a neurologic deficit or spinal cord injury.

Although spinal injury more commonly causes problems in the hind limbs than the front limbs, in severe cases of spinal cord damage, a horse may stand with their front limbs crossed, and will not right themselves if the front limbs are manually crossed. In these cases, the problem is worse in hind limbs.

There is also a fairly rare stereotypical (compulsive behavior seen in confined horses) behavior in which a horse intentionally crosses either the fore or hind limbs, without any detectable neurologic deficit. I have seen a few horses that crossed the hind limbs and at least one that crossed the forelimbs. As with many stereotypical behaviors, it seems to intensify when the horse is anxious or distressed. Horses experiencing girth pain will sometimes stand with their limbs crossed, especially when the girth is being tightened.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), looking for other abnormalities of posture or movement. Walk the horse forward a few steps and turn them to both sides. If you cross the front limbs, does the horse right them? Consider the context in which the horse is showing the abnormal foot or limb placement. Check the girth area for pain, heat or swelling. Does this occur when the girth is being tightened?

Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet will perform a careful physical and neurologic evaluation. Other diagnostics may be needed to further identify the problem. If it is behavioral in origin, your vet may suggest management changes.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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