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


Cannot Seem to Get Up, Lying Down, Seems Aware


Horses that are down and alert may be in abdominal pain (colic), or suffering from any number of other illnesses. A cast horse is in a position where its limbs are tipped up or there is insufficient room for them to roll onto their chest.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If you notice other signs of abdominal pain (colic).
    • If you are unable to get the horse to its feet.
    • You are able to get the horse to its feet but it still is not acting normal.
  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • If the horse gets up and acts normal but you still have some questions.

your role


What To Do

I usually tell my clients to try to get the horse up. First, be sure the horse is in a position in which it can get up, i.e. it's limbs are not tipped up on a wall or fence, and it has room to roll to its chest. Try once or twice to "spook the horse up". See the related skill for details: "Get a Down Horse Up or Roll a Down Horse".

Several important questions are answered by this exercise:

- Can the horse physically rise to its feet?
- What takes place when it tries to rise?
- If it gets to its feet, what does it do next?
- Does it stand quietly?
- Does it only walk with difficulty?
- Does it show lameness?
- Does it show other signs of abdominal pain?
- Does it try to lie down again quickly?

I also usually advise my clients to assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), working from the back of the horse to stay out of the way of their limbs if the horse flails or attempts to rise. Pay particular attention to the alertness of eyes (menace response), rectal temperature, heart rate, gum color and capillary refill time. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Work from the back of the horse and stay out of the way of the limbs.
Do not attempt to get a down horse up if you are not confident you can do it safely.

your vet's role

Your vet assesses the horse's general health and then tries to get the horse back to its feet. By assessing that effort, your vet begins to get an idea of the nature of the condition. They may start emergency treatment right away in the down horse, depending upon their assessment.

NOTE: This observation is associated with Rabies, which is very rare in horses but does occur. As a precaution, wear gloves when handling a horse exhibiting this sign.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is the horse?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Does the horse seem alert?
  • Is the horse rolling or showing other signs of pain?
  • Has the horse been getting up and down or is the horse down and will not get up?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • What happens when you try to get the horse up?
  • Do you notice evidence of physical injury, such as hair loss or swelling?
  • Is the horse in a physical position where it can get up?
  • What was the result of your assessment?

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
more diagnoses

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP