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


Abnormal Foot or Limb Placement, at Rest


An animal's correct placement of their limbs and feet requires proprioception (awareness of limb placement and acceleration) and results in a normal posture or stance. The anatomic components necessary for proprioception include the brain, spinal cord, nerves, receptors in the limb, and the musculoskeletal system. If any of these are damaged in any way, inappropriate, abnormally appearing placement of limbs may result.

The loss of proprioception can cause horses to appear as if they are standing funny, cross-legged, off-balance, or awkwardly. Relative to the correct position or placement of a limb, a horse may hold their limbs out to the side (lateral), behind normal (caudal), in front of normal (cranial a/k/a "pointing a limb"), or to the inside (medial) of normal.

Conditions causing loss of proprioception include traumatic nerve or spinal cord injury, Wobbler Syndrome, EPM, NAD, Equine Herpes Virus and other neurologic diseases. Abnormal limb or foot placement can also be due to weakness, literally an unwillingness or inability to position the limb correctly despite normal reflexes.

Importantly (and not related to proprioception), horses in pain often select a limb position that lessens the pain. "Pointing" is common in horses with heel pain or pain in the rear of a limb. Horses with pain in the limb may hold the limb laterally or medially depending on where it is most comfortable.

Rarely, horses position their limbs strangely as a behavioral habit. This is most common in horses that spend a great deal of time stalled and are bored. Horses often graze habitually with one or the other forelimb forward or back.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the horse has no appetite and is obviously depressed.
    • If the horse is reluctant to move, along with this sign.
    • If you notice apparent wobbliness or weakness, in addition to this sign.
    • 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 severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you notice worsening of the sign.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • 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.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying special attention to rectal temperature, the presence of digital pulse and heat in the feet, general attitude and appetite, and movement at the walk.

Walk the horse forward a few steps and turn them to both sides to assess for lameness and to evaluate their placement of the limbs in movement. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Until you talk to your vet, do not ride or exercise a horse that appears to have lost their sense of balance or proper limb placement.

your vet's role

Your vet will probably perform a general physical and neurologic evaluation. Using these diagnostics, they will likely be able to determine which of the above general causes are most likely involved. Other diagnostics may be needed to further identify and clarify the cause and whether treatment is necessary.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • When did you last notice that your horse was ok?
  • Do you notice other signs of disease or injury?
  • When was the horse last vaccinated?
  • Where, geographically, does the horse live?
  • In what geographical regions has the horse lived in the last several years?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Do you notice any lameness?
  • Do you notice any swelling or abnormality in the limb?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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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