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


Circling Compulsively in One Direction


You notice a strange pattern over time. When left alone and even when turned out, your horse seems to walk in a circle consistently to one direction. The horse does not seem anxious or upset.

Compulsive circling at the walk generally results from some type of brain disease. Blind horses also tend to circle compulsively in one direction, either as a means of directing the good eye forward or, if blind in both eyes, as a behavioral trait associated with fear or anxiety. Horses that compulsively circle may also have impaired vision or balance, and may hit obstacles or be generally unpredictable or dangerous.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
    • 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.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
    • If the horse's appetite and attitude are normal and you see nothing else wrong.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

When in doubt or if this sign has come on suddenly, do not handle the horse unless you must.

What Not To Do

Do not handle a horse exhibiting this behavior unless you must, and you are confident you can do it safely.

your vet's role

Your vet performs a physical examination, neurological assessment and other diagnostics to determine the reason for the circling.

NOTE: This observation is associated with Rabies, which is very rare in horses but does occur. As a precaution, wear gloves when handling a horse exhibiting this sign.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Do you observe any other signs?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • How is the horse's attitude and appetite?
  • Is the horse current on vaccines, including encephalitis, West Nile and Rabies?
  • 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