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


High-Stepping Gait of One or Both Hind Limbs


A normal gait depends on normal neurologic function, a functioning brain, spinal cord, spinal nerves, peripheral nerves, attachment of nerve to muscle, and muscle. If any of these things do not function properly, there will be a resulting gait abnormality. There is a great deal of normal variation in gait among horses depending on breed, training, hoof form or shoeing, and individual characteristics.

A moderate high-stepping hindlimb gait can be normal for particular horses, but it can also be caused by underlying conditions. When the gait is considered abnormal, it is called stringhalt, a poorly understood sign in which one or both hind limbs travels upward in a vertical snapping motion, with the foot coming far off the ground. This gait requires excessive flexion of the hock and stifle.

There are several known underlying conditions that cause this observation. Horses that have wounded the extensor tendons below the hock may develop this gait as the wound heals. Horses with hock arthritis and certain other lameness conditions may show this gait. In other cases, weed toxins may cause nerve damage leading to the development of stringhalt. Other conditions such as fibrotic myopathy and intermittent upward fixation of the patella can cause the appearance of a high stepping gait.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to heart rate, rectal temperature, attitude and appetite, and gait. Consider whether the problem affects one or both hind limbs. Look for swelling or evidence of injury to the hind limbs.

If you notice this observation in conjunction with any recent changes in feeding or management, consider reverting back to previous management until your vet sees your horse. If the horse is turned out on pasture, consider bringing it into a small corral or turnout and feed hay until your vet examines the horse.

your vet's role

Your vet will examine the horse to determine whether there are other accompanying abnormalities.

They may want to inspect your pasture for the toxic plants known to cause "Australian Stringhalt", which include Lathyrus hirsutus (singletary pea) or Hypochoeris radicata (Flatweed or false dandelion).
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Is there a wound, scar or any disfigurement of the front of the lower limb on the affected side?
  • Is the horse kept on pasture?
  • What is fed to the horse?
  • Is one hind limb affected, or are both affected?
  • Where, geographically, does the horse live?
  • What geographic areas has the horse been to in the last 6 months?
  • Are your other horses showing similar signs?
  • How is the horse managed?
  • 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

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP