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


Noticeably Wobbly or Weak


Wobbliness or apparent unsteadiness (ataxia) is a classic sign of a neurologic problem. It often appears worse in the hind limbs because the nerve pathways in the spinal cord are longer and more vulnerable than those to the front limbs.

Many other advanced or severe disease processes can cause a horse to appear as if it is about to fall down, including spinal and brain injury, major blood loss or end-stage shock. Signs associated with abdominal pain (colic) can also be confused with weakness, wobbliness or fainting. Horses that are in colic pain crouch, tremble, get up and down and can appear unstable on their feet.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If you feel the problem is severe or has come on suddenly.
    • 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 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.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Regardless, if a horse seems severely wobbly or weak, contact your vet immediately. Personal safety is very important. Horses can suddenly fall on a handler or pin them against a wall. Leave the horse alone in a bedded and secure stall and keep them calm until your vet arrives. If loss of coordination is less severe, then you may be able to carefully evaluate your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) and share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not attempt to handle a severely ataxic horse unless you must.

your vet's role

Your vet will seek to determine the nature of the problem causing the incoordination, with physical and neurologic exams and diagnostic testing, and will usually recommend symptomatic treatment. to try to help the signs.

NOTE: This observation is associated with Rabies, which is very rare in horses but does occur. As a precaution, always wear gloves when handling a horse exhibiting this sign.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Do you notice any signs of abdominal pain (colic)?
  • Is the horse lying down, pawing, rolling, looking at side, stretching, or kicking at their belly?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Are there signs of trauma?
  • Does the horse show interest in eating and it's surroundings?
  • Is the horse vaccinated for Rabies, Encephalitis and West Nile virus?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • When did the horse last look normal?
  • When was the horse last vaccinated?
  • What is the horse's vaccination status?
  • Do you know of any management changes?
  • To you knowledge, did your horse have an accident or injure itself lately?
  • What is the horse's travel history?

Diagnostics Your Vet May Perform

Figuring out the cause of the problem. These are tests or procedures used by your vet to determine what’s wrong.

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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)

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Related References:

Bathe AP. An unusual manifestation of nettle rash in three horses. Vet Rec 1994;1;134(1):11-12.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP