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


Hesitant to Walk on Hard Surfaces


You notice as you ride, or lead your horse, that they intentionally seek soft ground and avoid walking on hard pack or gravel. Or they slow down and walk gingerly when asked to walk on hard surfaces.

This is usually a sign of foot soreness (tender soles). Often, a horse is described as if they are "walking on eggshells.” The rule-out diagnosis is laminitis, but there are many other conditions that can cause this sign. Horses that are recently trimmed or that have bruised or soft soles often behave this way.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
    • If digital pulse is obvious in the limbs.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
    • If you do not notice digital pulse or heat in the feet.

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), feel for heat and digital pulse in the feet. Lift all the feet and check the soles for packed material. Clean the soles of the feet with a hoof pick. Press on the soles with your thumbs to see how soft they are. A normal sole should feel hard and unyielding. Feel for digital pulse and heat in each foot. Assess for lameness at the walk, especially turning tight circles, both ways on firm ground. Rest the horse until the situation is treated or resolves. Consider shoeing or the use of boots to protect the soles. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

your vet's role

Your vet will consider the findings in light of the overall conformation and soundness of the horse and will rule out common lameness conditions. Once the cause for the behavior is better understood, treatment and management to optimize the horse's comfort and performance will be more clear.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • Has there been a recent change in feeding, level of work or management?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • If not, have shoes been pulled or hooves trimmed recently?
  • Is the horse shod?
  • Is there heat or digital pulse in the feet?
  • 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
more diagnoses

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)

Very Common
more treatments

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP