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


Dropped Elbow, Cannot Support Weight


For a horse to properly bear weight on their front limb it needs a series of functioning mechanical components, such as the extensor function of the elbow joint that is supported and enabled by the triceps muscles.

Several injuries that cause failure of the mechanics of this area. When they occur, a horse adopts a characteristic stance on that limb known as "dropped elbow", meaning that the point of the elbow appears low. Often the toe of the hoof is on the ground, the heel is raised and the carpus (knee) is flexed. When asked to walk, the horse cannot bear weight and will usually hop.

Two conditions commonly associated with this are fracture of the point of the elbow and nerve paralyses. Both of these are usually associated with severe traumatic injuries. Fracture of the elbow is more common in young horses that have a history of falling on the affected side.

If a horse cannot bear weight on a limb for any reason it is a veterinary emergency. Horses cannot support their weight for extended periods on the other supporting limb for long without developing laminitis (founder) or other problems.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

your role


What To Do

Keep the horse confined in a bedded stall and call your vet. They may instruct you to give a dose of medication to control pain until they arrive and can examine the horse.

What Not To Do

Do not allow a horse with this stance, and non-weight bearing lameness to support all of its weight on the good limb for extended periods without a diagnosis.

your vet's role

Your vet will attempt to definitively diagnose the injury. This anatomic region can be hard to evaluate without the use of diagnostics like x-ray and ultrasound.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How lame is the horse?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Does the horse have a history of accident or injury?
  • Do you notice any swelling or abnormality in the limb?
  • What is the horse's rectal temperature?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP