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


Head or Brain Trauma, Blow to Head


Your horse has sustained an impact to the head that you think may have been severe enough to cause brain damage.

Head injuries in horses are relatively common given their strength, mass, and speed, combined with their overdeveloped fight or flight response. Head injuries usually results from a fall or a high speed collision with an immobile object. The most common head injury I have seen results from horses rearing over backward and landing on the poll, the back of the head.

Horses with severe and immediate brain damage will probably not be able to rise or even roll onto their chest. The nature of the signs shown will depend on the area of the brain that has been injured. Some horses do not seem aware of their surroundings or may have seizures.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • Even if the horse seems normal, it is best to start the conversation.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

If the horse seems ok after a blow to the head, it may still be wise to contact your vet. Brain swelling later can cause signs, and so prophylactic examination and treatment may be of value.

For a horse that is obviously injured, be careful! There is likely not much you can do and you could be injured yourself. If possible and safe to do so, assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). If the horse is down, always work from the horse's backside to avoid their legs. If your horse is standing they may be very unsteady on their feet and pose a great risk to handlers. Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

What Not To Do

Do not assume that because the horse appears ok immediately after trauma, that it is ok.

Brain damage can be delayed in some cases, and result from swelling or bleeding within the brain case. This is the reason that it is always vital to have your vet evaluate a horse that has sustained a head injury.

your vet's role

Your vet uses physical and neurologic exams to determine the extent and likely location of the damage. They may choose to use strong anti-inflammatories and other medications to try to reduce brain swelling as they do testing to determine the nature and extent of injury and prognosis.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does the horse show an interest in its surroundings?
  • Briefly describe the situation to me.
  • Do you notice abnormal eye movement?
  • Does the horse respond to a menace gesture?
  • Does the horse show interest in feed?
  • 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.

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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP