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


Limbs Seem Rigid or Stiff


Stiff or rigid limbs can result from a variety of injuries or illnesses such as foot soreness, muscle soreness, abdominal pain (colic), chest pain, or many other other neurologic or muscular diseases. This condition becomes more evident when a horse moves forward. This apparent observation might also be confused with a variety of others, especially reluctance to move forward generally. Is this pain or "just the way the horse moves"?

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • 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 is reluctant to move, along with this sign.
    • If you do not notice digital pulse or heat in the feet.
  • 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.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

If you notice that your horse’s limbs seem stiff, that is a good starting point for additional observations. Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to their feet and their environment. Assess your horse's limbs gently, feeling for swelling or heat and look for wounds. Especially assess for digital pulse and heat in the feet. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

your vet's role

Taken alone, this observation is usually too broad of a sign to help your vet narrow down the problem. However, this observation is often accompanied by other abnormalities that, taken together, assist your vet in choosing appropriate diagnostics, reaching a diagnosis, and suggesting treatment options.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Do you notice any other problems with the horse?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • Is there heat or digital pulse in the feet?
  • Does the stiffness seem worse on hard ground than soft?
  • Are you confident that this is a new problem?
  • Have you noticed any other problems like tripping or poor performance?

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