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


Struggles to Rise, Gets up with Difficulty


This observation is seen in horses suffering from musculoskeletal pain or neurologic disease, and is common in older horses. Most old horses that have difficulty rising will gradually become worse, ultimately requiring assistance.

In many cases, these horses traumatize themselves in their efforts to get up. Sores around the hocks and fetlocks are common. In severe cases, there are sores elsewhere on the body. These older horses typically rise front end first, because the rear end is weak. You will often notice them "dog-sitting", sitting on the haunches with the front limbs up.

  • 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 feel the problem is severe or has come on suddenly.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

If you notice your horse struggling to get up, you can carefully roll them over or assist them to rise. Once they are up, assess their general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the existence of lameness, swelling or wobbliness. Contact your vet with your findings and concerns, and discuss your diagnostic and treatment options.

What Not To Do

Do not try to help your horse stand, or assess them while standing unless you can do it safely.

your vet's role

Your vet will attempt to determine what is causing this to happen or, at minimum, ensure that this problem does not lead to others. Often there are medications and management changes that can be used to improve quality of life.

In our practice, we manage many older horses that have increasing difficulty getting up, where expensive diagnostics and treatment are not an option. We maintain a number of these horses on NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and they do well given the circumstances.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • How old is the horse?
  • Does the horse's general health seem good to you otherwise?
  • Is the horse eating, drinking and behaving normally otherwise?
  • When did you last think your horse seemed normal?
  • Do you notice any swelling or lameness?
  • When was your horse last de-wormed, and what was used?

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
Less Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP