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


Compulsive, Forceful Walking, Driving Forward when Led


There are a variety of reasons for horses to walk obsessively or forcefully. This summary refers to horses that push ahead of the person leading them, but compulsive walking can also be seen in horses that are loose, and in this case means something entirely different.

Horses that walk faster than the person leading them may simply have a training problem. So, it is helpful to know if this is normal behavior for a particular horse or not.

However, compulsive walking can be seen in horses with abdominal pain (colic). This behavior is usually accompanied by other colic signs, but not always. These horses seek to keep moving in response to the pain. They may push into the halter and walk ahead of their handler. They may even trot or canter, as if they are trying to run away from the pain.

Horses that have "pacing" or "weaving" stall vices walk back and forth continuously in their enclosure. Horses in abdominal pain (colic) also stall walk obsessively and will circle continuously in a stall. Horses that are afflicted with a variety of other conditions may walk incessantly.

Horses with brain disease may walk compulsively (circle) in one direction. Blind horses sometimes circle and walk compulsively as well. Mares in estrus may pace to get to a stallion or other horses. Stallions regularly pace the perimeters of enclosures during breeding season.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business 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.
    • If you notice signs of colic, along with this sign.
  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to attitude and appetite. Look for other signs of colic and note whether they are steady or wobbly on their feet. Consider your horse's behavior and environmental factors. Is this normal behavior for the horse or not? Is the horse anxious or stressed due to something in their environment, and is this stress causing the behavior? Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

your vet's role

Your vet considers the reason for the behavior. In cases of colic, your vet will try to gather as much physical information as possible "on the run" but may need to sedate the horse to complete the exam.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Are you seeing other signs of abdominal pain (colic)?
  • When did you first notice this behavior?
  • Does the horse's behavior seem normal otherwise?
  • Is this normal behavior for your horse?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • If your horse is a mare, is she showing signs of heat or estrus behavior?
  • Does your horse have a history of colic?

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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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP