What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Suddenly Stops or Resists Moving Forward Under Saddle


This finding can be associated with training issues, any condition causing lameness, pain, or general sickness. In particular, horses with muscle soreness or "tying-up" (exertional rhabdomyolysis) may simply stop or resist moving forward.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the horse has no appetite and is obviously depressed.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) indicate fever (Temp>101F/38.3C), or heart rate greater than 48 BPM that persists an hour after recovery from exercise.
    • If you notice brown or very dark urine accompanying this sign.
    • If the horse is resistant to move, even after you dismount.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
    • 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.

your role


What To Do

You can go a long way toward ruling out physical problems causing the behavior. Dismount, lead your horse in a circle each way and ask them to back up a few steps. Study their response.

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). Pay particular attention to the appearance of gums, pulse and respiratory rate. Look at the limbs, and especially the hooves. Pick each foot up and examine the sole to determine whether there is anything stuck there or obvious injury. Assess the hoof for for heat and digital pulse.

Examine the saddle and bridle for anything that might be causing pain. Examine the horse's legs as you walk forward. Look for other signs of illness or injury and share all of your findings and concerns with your vet.

FINALLY, If you are on the trail and cannot contact your vet and have a horse that will not move forward, consider the following. If you think it has "tied up" and you have medications on hand, give the horse a single dose of flunixin (Banamine) or bute at dose recommended on the label. Offer water if that is possible, loosen girth or remove saddle, let the horse rest 30-60 minutes or until the medication begins working and he is willing to move forward slowly, and then try to lead him to the closest reasonable destination (camp or trailer). Avoid pushing the horse hard against his will, as this tends to worsen the signs. If the horse can walk, lead them at a slow, steady walk until reaching the destination. Rest frequently for a few minutes at a time when the horse seems to slow or resist, and then continue.

What Not To Do

If your horse ever stops moving forward under saddle, do not force them to exercise. If your horse is "experiencing exertional rhabdomyolysis ("tying up") or lameness conditions, continued exercise will likely worsen the condition.

your vet's role


Your vet will help you rule out physical factors so that you can confidently address training issues. Like many undesirable behaviors, horses can rapidly learn this behavior if it is easier for them than alternative, more desirable behaviors.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Has the feed, management, rider, riding style, or tack changed?
  • Is there digital pulse or heat in foot or feet?
  • Can the horse bear weight on all the limbs and walk forward fairly normally?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Have you examined the tack?
  • Do you think the horse's attitude and appetite are normal?
  • Do you notice any signs of abdominal pain (colic)?
  • Have you ever noticed this happen before?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP