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


Resists Raising, Lifting, or Bending a Limb


There are several possible reasons why a horse may resist raising, lifting, or bending a limb. This is most common in hind limbs but happens with front limbs as well.

When an injured joint is put into flexion or any injured tissue is stressed, pain can result causing a horse to withdraw or resist. Pain in or injury to the opposite (weight bearing limb or support limb) limb can also cause a horse to resist lifting the other limb because it hurts to bear weight on the affected limb.

Horses that are weak or suffering neurologic deficits may also resist having a limb lifted because they lose their balance or stability.

In some cases, no obvious physical basis for this behavior is identified. In these cases, this behavior may result from either a training deficiency or handing error.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you are convinced this is associated with lameness.
    • If you notice apparent wobbliness or weakness, in addition to this sign.
    • If there seems to be pain, swelling or lameness.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
    • If you do not notice lameness.

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the presence or absence of lameness. Assess both the lifted limb and the support limb carefully, looking for swelling or other abnormalities of either limb.

Compare your horse's response when the same manipulation is done with the opposite limb.

Consider the horse's training and your own ability. Could this be strictly a behavioral problem? Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not repeatedly attempt to solve this behavioral problem without first ruling out potential physical causes.

your vet's role

Your vet will usually start with a thorough history and physical exam, paying particular attention to the affected limb(s), in attempt to determine whether this behavior has an underlying physical cause.

Depending on their initial findings, your vet may also recommend a lameness and/or neurologic exam. Some vets will be able to help with the behavioral aspects of this problem too.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is the horse?
  • Which limb(s) are involved?
  • Do you notice any swelling or abnormality in the limb?
  • When did you first notice the behavior?
  • Do you notice heat or swelling in the limb?
  • Do you notice lameness?
  • What does the horse do for a living?
  • Does your horse have a history of an old injury or chronic lameness of that limb?
  • How does this limb compare to the opposite hind limb?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

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
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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
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further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP