As a horse owner, rider or carer we need to be able to recognise the signs that may indicate that a horse or pony is unwell. As they are unable to tell us what hurts we must be able to read the signs to ensure we act appropriately. The signs are often as simple as a slight change in behaviour.
Whenever you see your horse (or a horse you are caring for) you should check them for signs of good health. This can often be a quick observation of their behaviour and their appearance. However, once a day a closer inspection must be carried out.
What are the signs of good health?
Put simply this is that the horse is acting in his usual manner, each horse is different and so getting to know them well will ensure you can quite quickly tell if something is wrong. Does he have his head over the door first thing in the morning, is he holding his head high - these are a good sign that he is well. But if this is not his normal behaviour ie: some horses will stand quietly at the back of the stable dozing, then the fact that he does not have his head over the door should not be a worry.
In the stable:
- Horse is bright and alert, ears pricked and moving to sound
- Interested in his surroundings
- Coat dry, glossy and lying smoothly over the bones and muscles
- Eyes and nostrils should be clean
- Breathing regularly
- Standing square on all 4 legs. Sometimes horses do rest a hind leg but they will usually alternate
- The bed should be fairly neat
- Piles of droppings will usually be consistent (horses usually pass 8 -10 piles of droppings in a day, overnight you would expect 3-5). In addition the consistency of the droppings should be right for his diet
- Food should be eaten and some water should have been drunk
In the field:
- For most of the year horses will be with the herd or a little way apart
- They may be grazing, resting, nuzzling or flicking each other with their tails
- Some may lie down near the herd for a short while, but they all should look relaxed
- On winter mornings the herd may gather by the gate, or where the food is brought to the field
- They may stand together for warmth
- They should look bright and alert and be anticipating food.
- Coat should be soft, shiny and smooth (even in winter)
- Limbs should be cool and free from swellings, lumps, wounds and sores. Check by stroking a hand down each leg.
- The hooves should be cool, and the foot underneath free of any bruising, discolouration of sole or horn, wounds or stones
- The horse should be a normal warm temperature, not sweating unduly, shivering or trembling. Feeling the base of the ears, near to the head, is a good way of determining temperature. They should be warm, not hot or cold.
- The horse's eye should be clean and dry
- His nostrils should be clean and dry
- Inspect the membranes of the eyes, gums and nostrils; these should be salmon pink. If they are white, red, bluish or purple, this is a sign of trouble
- The horse's demeanor should be alert, relaxed, interested but not agitated
- He should stand on all 4 feet evenly when asked to do so.
Rules to keep your horse healthy:
- Visit every day to check for good health
- Ensure all necessary inoculations are given on time
- Worm or use worm counts regularly
- Feed correctly
- Make sure clean water is always available
- Shoe or have feet trimmed correctly and regularly
- Make sure the horse is warm enough and well rugged up in winter
- Check fields and pasture daily
- Avoid contact with horses with infectious or contagious diseases
- Exercise the horse appropriately
What are the signs of ill health?
It can be obvious that a horse is ill but sometimes the signs are subtle. If a horse is acting in a way that is not his normal behaviour then he should be closely monitored for more ill health indicators.
- Standing at the back of the stable looking lethargic and droopy
- Sweating or having dried sweat marks
- Trembling or shivering
- His body may be 'tucked up' which means that his belly is tight, back hunched and tail held tight against his hindquarters
- He may be kicking or trying to bite his sides
- Uneaten food
- Not drinking
- Torn or slipped rug
- Dull eyes
- Immobile and drooping ears
- Discharge from the nostrils or eyes, or evidence of this on the floor
- Dull, stary coat it may stick out from the body
- Irregular breathing, wheezing, coughing or sneezing
- Stable may be messy with bedding tossed around or heaped and there may be signs that the walls or door have been kicked - these all are signs of a disturbed night
- No dung or the droppings are harder or softer than usual. Signs of diarrhoea down the horses legs
- Pointing a foot - when only the toe is touching the ground
- Leg may be swollen and or hot
This picture shows the swollen fetlock Basil had in September!
- Hooves may be hot
- If the horse is in the field he may be standing by the gate looking sorry for himself
- Standing apart from the herd
- Uninterested in food
- Lying down for long periods, rolling constantly or having difficulty getting up
- Pointing or keeping the weight off his fore feet or leaning back on his hind legs
- He may be lame
Horses can suffer from stress and anxiety. Often this type of ill health will show with physical symptoms it may initially be difficult to judge. Any abnormal behaviour must be monitored! Once you get to know a horse, his habits and behaviour you will be able to watch for any change in these.
I have looked after Chesney, Basil and Fidget for several years now and know their quirks and their usual behaviour. I can tell if something isn't quite right really early now and so can act according.
Does your horse have any unusual quirks?
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Until next time!