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


Reluctant to Move, Walk. Not Under Saddle


A horse seems unwilling to move forward. This complaint can result from a variety of underlying causes including severe foot pain, lameness, muscle pain (tying-up) abdominal pain (colic), or lack of proper halter training. If you notice your horse is reluctant to walk or move forward, that is a good starting point for additional observations.

The goal is to determine whether this is a behavioral issue or whether it results from pain or illness. Some conditions that are painful enough to cause a horse not to want to walk can be life-threatening.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the behavior is persistent and the horse seems to be distressed.
    • 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 the horse seems stiff, or digital pulse is present.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
    • If the situation has improved but you have lingering questions.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
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your role


What To Do

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and pay special attention to their feet. Lift each of them and inspect the sole for stones or packed material. If the horse has been exercised or ridden and is tacked up; remove the saddle, and inspect both the tack itself and the underlying skin anywhere the tack was in contact. Especially look at the rear part of the back - the loin and hip- for swelling or pain. This is a common area for muscle swelling and pain in horses that are "tying up".

Remove all tack and simply try to drive the horse forward. What happens?

Does the horse resist having you lift the feet? Does the horse resist turning one way or the other more than walking straight forward? Does the horse seem to resist hard surfaces more than soft? Do you feel a digital pulse or heat in the feet? Is the horse showing any signs of abdominal pain (colic)? Do you notice swelling or pain in the loin? Also carefully inspect tack and the mouth.

When encouraging a resistant horse to move forward pull slightly to one side rather than trying to pull directly forward. If a horse will not lead, you might also try to chase or drive them forward to evaluate their response. Promptly share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not force a horse to move if you think it has a physical problem. Some conditions are made worse through forced exercise. Let the horse stand where it is or lead it to its stall and wait for your vet to arrive.

your vet's role

Your vet's approach is to assess general health, and pay particular attention to pain-causing conditions of the limbs. The diagnosis of "Tying up" may need to be ruled out as well.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Is there heat or digital pulse in the feet?
  • Is snow or mud packed into the feet?
  • Has the horse recently been exercised?
  • Do you notice a difference in the horse's willingness depending on the surface?
  • Does this only occur when the horse is ridden?
  • Have you noticed this happen before?
  • Do you notice swelling or a wound anywhere?
  • Is the horse showing signs of abdominal pain?
  • Have you examined the horse's back and girth and checked saddle fit?
  • 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.

Very Common
Less Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP