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


Drags in Hand, Won't Lead Up


A horse's refusal to move forward when led in hand is an undesirable behavior. Horses are taught this behavior in the same way they are taught to engage in many other unwanted behaviors. They perceive the behavior to be easier and more rewarding than alternative (desirable) behaviors.

Horses that will not lead up have not been taught to yield forward to pressure at the poll. The handler may also not be giving the right cues. All horses should attain the speed of the handler and should trot easily in hand without pulling or dragging. On the other hand, they should not crowd or bypass the handler.

This behavior can also be a response to pain. A variety of physical problems may cause a horse to drag on the lead rope, including low-grade lameness, especially foot soreness, tack problems, tying up, etc.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • 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.
  • 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.

your role


What To Do

Carefully assess the feet especially, feeling for digital pulse. Look for any evidence of lameness by turning the horse in sharp circles at the walk, on firm footing.

What Not To Do

Do not force a horse to move if you are not confident that physical causes have been ruled out.

your vet's role

Your vet can help you determine whether this behavior is a result of physical pain by performing a physical and lameness exam.

If a physical cause is ruled out, look to yourself, and others who have handled your horse as both the cause of the problem and the solution. What is required is good timing and technique, as well as a method of handling your horse that rewards even the tiniest attempts at yielding to pressure on the poll with the halter. Your vet may or may not have an interest in helping you teach the horse to overcome this behavior. A qualified trainer should also be consulted.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Can you drive the horse forward without pulling with a leadrope?
  • Does the horse move normally when driven from behind and not pulled?
  • Is this a new problem, did the horse lead up willingly before?
  • Do you notice any other problems with the horse?
  • Do you notice any lameness?
  • Do you notice digital pulses in the feet?
  • 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
more diagnoses

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP