Is Your Stumbling Horse Neurologically Impaired?

Try these two simple tests to tell if your horse's simple stumble is a sign of something much worse.
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A horse with a neurologic disease will not be able to back as his head is held high.

A horse with a neurologic disease will not be able to back as his head is held high.

With all the headlines about equine herpes virus and other neurologic diseases, it's easy to get paranoid about any misstep your horse takes. However, rest assured that most stumbles are not indicative of a serious problem.

In horses, the first signs of central nervous system trouble are more likely to be weakness or gait asymmetry. A neurologically impaired horse will drift sideways, with his hindquarters out of alignment, instead of walking straight. He will also have a less-than-perfect awareness of the position, movement and orientation of his limbs (known as proprioception), and will tend to step on himself, particularly if led in a small circle or pushed sideways.

Once a horse with neurological disease gets to the point of stumbling, his condition is so advanced that it's clear that more simple clumsiness is the cause. If you're still worried, try two simple tests:

  • With your horse standing still, cross one of his forelegs in front of the other. A horse with full neurological faculties will be able to easily uncross them.
  • Raise your horse's head as high as you can and ask him to walk backward. A horse with a neurological deficit will not be able to comply and will "sit" or scramble rather than back up.