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


Unconscious, Lying Down & Not Responsive


This is a rare finding and obviously not a good one. Horses can be down and unresponsive for a variety of reasons including abdominal pain (colic), or severe trauma. Brain or spinal cord injury is a possibility. As you would expect, "Down and unresponsive" can also occur at the end stage of any severe acute disease process, i.e. when a horse is dying.

NOTE: A horse that is down and unresponsive could have the disease Rabies. For that reason, always wear rubber gloves if you plan to touch the horse.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

your role


What To Do

First, recognize the DANGER. A horse that is down can rapidly thrash or paddle with the legs, severely injuring a person in the wrong place. Always stand behind the horse and NEVER near the legs.

Contact your vet immediately. While you are waiting, you can help by gathering important information about the horse and the situation.

Start by looking the horse over generally for obvious injuries or signs of a struggle. Then, if the horse initially appears unresponsive, test that assumption. Look in their eye. Is it glazed over or is there some awareness? When you move your hand quickly toward the eye does the horse blink or move (menace response?) If not, touch the eyelashes and consider the response.

Being careful of the horse suddenly jumping up, clap your hands together near the face. Any response? Next, try to get the horse up, and assess their response. Try slapping the horse on the soft part of the side of the muzzle. Any response? Standing three feet behind the horse’s head, rush toward them, stomping your feet hard on the ground. Any response? Are they reluctant to rise or do they try? Are they weak or uncoordinated in their attempt?

Again, ALWAYS work from behind the horse's back where you are less likely to be injured. In rare cases, your horse may be more responsive than you think, and will jump to its feet if you stimulate it.

You can take a temperature and heart rate in a down horse but ALWAYS work from the back of the horse to avoid being kicked. Listen to the heart (again from behind the horse) and look at gum color and capillary refill time. If there is no response to your stimulation, or your horse tries but cannot rise, then stop until your vet arrives, when you can share your findings with them.

What Not To Do

Do not stand near the horse's legs. You can be severely injured.

your vet's role

Your vet considers the situation and performs a careful examination to determine the likely nature of the problem. Part of that will likely be an attempt to get the horse to its feet.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Is there evidence of trauma or injury?
  • When did you last notice the horse behaving normally?
  • Has anything changed in the environment, feed or management?
  • Can your horse get up?
  • Have you noticed any signs of abdominal pain (colic)?
  • Do you see signs that the horse struggled?

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

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP