Toe Dragging Getting Worse with Work

Hi COTH Hivemind, looking for feedback/ideas, vet will be involved, typical disclaimer, etc. I’m not sure if this belongs better in the dressage or horse care forum.

I have a hot hot sensitive Lusitano gelding (typical of the breed, but this guy can be extra reactive) who is dragging the left hind toe. The severity is intermittent through the session and long term-- he has had periods of a few weeks over the past 8 mos I’ve had him where his behavior declines and he seems unhappy in the work, spooking, very stiff, and otherwise is a superstar, has obvious talent for the upper levels, and a great work ethic. Other than the spooking out of nowhere occasionally which is getting much better since I got him, his major issues under saddle are that his LL canter is significantly stronger than the RL, he can be stiff bending left, and he struggles to maintain the canter in straightness on long sides and diagonals.

I moved him to my trainer’s barn (Trainer 1) in the beginning of January touching the third level work and since then we’ve improved canter half pass, working on tempis on the good days, and playing with half steps. He tries really hard and has never taken an obviously lame step under saddle or on the longe. However, with the increased workload the toe dragging is definitely becoming worse, to the point where he is making the left hind toe square. He drags the right toe a tiny bit but the wear on the toe is insignificant relative to the left. The past three rides he has been struggling to maintain the left lead canter and stay on the outside rein and swings his butt into the wall in the transitions walk-trot or trot-canter going right (swings his butt left). He first did this in a lesson with Trainer 2, who worked me through it that day riding shoulders to the wall, haunches in, leg yields to the right, but he was doing it more significantly yesterday and I made it clear that he couldn’t blow through my outside leg in the transitions by swinging his butt and finished for the day by putting him on the longe-- I think he was a little touchy right hind but nothing severe.

Farrier has said that the toe drag was definitely there but that at the time (a week ago) he wasn’t lame. Her comment is that he walks like a 17hh horse behind and a 15hh horse in front (he is about 15.2hh). He has a 8-10 in overtrack at the walk and looks like he is ‘skating’ behind sometimes at the trot but he doesn’t feel weird under saddle. He was seen by the chiro ~2 weeks ago who said he was “all left” and needed to develop muscle on the right but otherwise his spine looked great. I know this, his saddle is adjusted to compensate. Both recommended caveletti work which we started with Trainer 1 and he is terrified of going over the poles but can be convinced at the walk so far (this seems ridiculous, I know, but probably the result of poor management before I got him and he will walk over on the ground if I go first).

When I got him he had a severely contracted right front heel that my farrier has been working on and is slowly opening up and healing. He’s probably been dealing with this most of his life and we’re fixing it at 12 years old. With the wet season we’ve been treating for thrush.

My thoughts: have we brought something up by messing with the tall heel he’s been compensating for his whole life? Hock arthritis? A silly evasion? Something cropping up after increasing the workload?

Just to add another layer-- he is not mine. I have him on a year lease with the intent to help the owner sell him this summer (eye roll). So I’m hesitant to dump hours of my time and thousands of my dollars into this just to give him up in ~six months.

Toe drag can be from so many things. Stifles or SI would be my first usual guess.

I had a horse that sometimes would get a bit of a toe drag (not as severe as it sounds this horse is with the wear on his toe.) He ended up having Wobblers and arthritis in his lumbar area. We never did x-ray his stifle though. My vet thought in the end the toe drag was related to the spinal issues.

Best of luck. Starting with a vet that’s good with lameness is your best bet.


My horse mildly drags both hind feet, he turned out to have kissing spines, and SI pain - likely from a negative plantar angles behind, one much worse than the other. We did thoracic spine and SI injections, but that is just intended to treat pain/symptoms. I think the real problem are the poor angles. I hope after correcting the feet he will be much more comfortable, but I expect it will take a long time.

All that said, I think what you really need is a good lameness exam. I had one vet out initially helped me diagnose a collapsed heel up front, but my horse’s continued lameness was not diagnosed correctly until I found a better vet.

Since he’s not yours, I would talk with his owner and see if they are willing to help get him assessed (and help pay for films, I think it sounds like this horse needs radiographs). Really sorry. Lameness sucks.


I agree with back/ stifle problems. Can you have a conversation with the owner about this? I mean, you leased a horse that was supposed to be able to do what you want, but it appears he’s not really capable of that without medical investigation/intervention.

When is the lease up? It might be worth you deciding if the cost going forward is worth it to you and the horse, some it sounds like without an exam (money) he won’t be comfortable. That’s if the owner doesn’t want to pay for anything.

Also, continuing to ride him without knowing the issue could make him less likely to pass a ppe in the summer., and change his value downward.


I agree spinal lesion, particularly sacral. Bony lesion on one side may certainly be an answer. If the owner is aware of the ongoing issues, then time to see that diagnostics may be important if she expects to make a sale

If you have not made the owner aware, time to start

Thanks for the input. His feet are excellent other than the right front tall heel and the toe wear. Compliments from multiple farriers, nice straight legs. If anything I want to say that fixing the front or what we’ve done so far has brought out the hind end weakness. I’ve touched base with the owner today w vids but no reply yet.

The lease is up at the end of July. The idea was for me to show him a bit this summer maybe working towards my silver and get him out so he’s more appealing to sell. They want too much for him without the hind end weakness and he’s way too much horse for the majority of amateurs so I’m not sure where they think they are going with this. I’m not willing to dump money into him unless he’s mine.

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Chiro has seen him recently and he doesn’t palpate sore in the back. I am leaning stifles but will keep in mind when I speak to the vet. Owner is aware

Lumbo-sacral junctions are notoriously problematic on Lusos. I have one and have many symptoms similar to yours. SI injections/osphos/adequan help a great deal. They don’t always palpate sore so do not use that as a measure. The proof is in how they move underneath you. He is showing you by the way he moves that something isn’t right.


My horse never palpated sore in the back, I went through 3 vets and 1 chiro to find out he had kissing spines. My horse also to drags


I knew a dressage horse on layup at our barn with a serious, career ending, suspensory injury on one rear foot. The owner told me it presented as a dragging toe on one side and her trainer had them work on it as a training or discipline issue until the horse was obviously crocked.

I would take this seriously and get off the horse. Yes, you will irritate and maybe anger the owner who sees you as the amateur trainer who will make them a nice profit. But you run the risk of completely ruining this horse. Then what?

In this situation you need the owners to step up and pay for diagnostics and take responsibility.


don’t think of this as a pain related toe drag, consider a neurologic signal interference


What Scribbler said, absolutely. Until you know what’s ailing this horse, riding him runs the risk of making things worse. Yes, it might be simple weakness that could be remedied by training, cavaletti or hill work, but better safe than sorry.


I don’t blame you for not wanting to commit financially if he’s not yours, I wouldn’t be keen to do that either.

Consider if he’s a good fit if he were affordable? This could potentially be a negotiation point if you do want him. If you don’t want him, then I think you should really consider ending this lease and not riding him. That sucks for you, but better to end now rather than get sucked into paying for a horse that is going to be sold out from under you.

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Yes he is my third Lusi and fantastic work ethic but never afraid to let you know how they feel. My others have been sound and happy and so are most others I know but good to know

He will have at least the beginning of this week off and assess again to make sure it’s not simple muscle soreness but that does not explain the continual toe dragging. He has always had a little toe drag but this is presenting differently and unevenly.
Ultimately if he is “ruined” he does not belong to me and he will go back to the owner. I’m not required to sell him for them, it’s just horse world business.
I would love if the owners would take the ball on this but hard to know now. Like I said we will see how the week goes.

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He’s a very good fit for me if sound and fixable. I’m totally willing to handle a quirky hot horse with talent if priced accordingly. Some major adjustments to the price would have to be made ie I pay a lease fee for him and he would have to be a free horse from here on out. We will see where this week takes us.

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Good luck, I’m glad you’re working with him, since it sounds like the owners are all about maximizing profit.

My older gelding toe dragged and squared off both hinds and was also quite asymmetrical (wanted to bend left only, struggled to canter right). In the end was diagnosed with a very calcified SI joint. Was expensive to diagnose (nuclear scintigraphy). He is now happily retired - I was not comfortable making him carry me around despite encouragement from the vet. Cause was attributed to too much high speed repetitive jumping at a young age and a physiology not suited to it (all this well before I got him at 10 yrs of age).

He also has an upright right front foot. My usual vet, lameness vet and also farrier were all very firm on the idea that it should not be made to look like the other foot, but should remain upright where it wanted to be.

This boy is fortunate that you are looking out for him. Hope you can get to the bottom of it.


Depending on where you are now and where the horse has been in his past, you might look at Lyme disease.

The Cornell test is very accurate and worth doing, again depending on where the horse is/has been.

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