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


Difficulty Advancing Front Limb or Leg


Movement of the front limb forward requires the coordinated effort of multiple muscle groups. The neck, shoulder and extensor muscles of the forearm are all involved. Thus, pain in any of these muscles may cause a horse to be reluctant to bring the limb forward.

This "swinging limb", "swinging phase" or "anterior phase" lameness looks different than a weight-bearing lameness (limb hurts when weight is borne on it). The horse may drag the front toe on the ground, or may move it slowly forward.

Generally, a horse demonstrating this observation has a problem high in the limb, in the neck, armpit or chest. Injuries to nerves of the upper limb can also result in this appearance.

  • 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 seems particularly distressed by the problem.
    • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
    • If there is severe lameness accompanying this sign but the horse can walk.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
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your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) paying particular attention to the presence of absence of fever. Carefully assess the whole limb, paying particular attention to the front of the forearm, the neck and the shoulder area. Be sure to press and manipulate these areas, looking for swelling, heat or a pain response.

your vet's role

Your vet performs a careful physical exam to assess general health. They carefully evaluate the regions (listed above) that are most likely to be associated with this change in movement. They perform a lameness exam if needed and may use regional anesthesia and imaging techniques.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Is there any swelling in the area?
  • Do you notice any swelling or abnormality in the limb?
  • To you knowledge, did your horse have an accident or injure itself lately?
  • Can you see a puncture or wound anywhere in the limb, especially the upper limb or in the groin or a
  • When did you first notice this?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • How is the horse's attitude and appetite?
  • What is the horse's rectal temperature?
  • Is the horse out with others such that it might have been kicked?
  • Was your horse vaccinated recently?
  • 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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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
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further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP