As a horse owner, it is vital that you know your horse’s normal behavior and routines so that you can spot any abnormalities and catch problems before they become life threatening. Here are 6 ways to know if you have a healthy horse.
Regular Visual Inspections
Look for any abnormal scrapes, cuts, hoof cracks, or lumps. Run your hands over the horse. Check for abnormal heat, particularly in the legs. Check for ticks, especially under the mane and tail.
Monitor Feed Intake
You should know how much your horse eats every meal. If your horse runs out of hay sooner than he normally does or his hay ration lasts longer than it should, you might want to really pay attention and see if anything else is off. Is he eating his concentrated feed? Is he acting hungrier than usual? This might be a sign that something is wrong and a call to the vet might be in order.
Track Water Intake
A healthy horse will not vary his water intake much from one day to another. But if your horse’s feed intake is off, his water intake is probably also affected. If your horse drinks from a bucket, it will be very easy to tell as the bucket or tub will not need filled as often – or it might need filled more often. But if your horse drinks from an automatic watering system or a naturally occurring body of water such as a stream or spring, it can be difficult to directly monitor water intake. Fortunately, there are other ways to look for abnormal water consumption.
A healthy horse will have consistent bowel movements. A water deficiency can lead to harder bowel movements and excess water can lead to looser bowel movements. It is important to know what your horse’s normal manure looks like so you can spot an abnormal bowel movement before it gets too extreme. It is also important to keep an eye on how frequent your horse’s bowel movements are. If you usually only have to clean ten piles of manure out the paddock and one day you suddenly have to only clean up six, that’s an issue and could be a sign of colic.
Stay Alert for Dehydration
If you suspect your horse is dehydrated, there are two simple tests you can do before calling the vet. The first is the skin pinch test. You simply pinch a small section of skin on the neck or shoulder and if it stays elevated for more than a few seconds you may need to worry about dehydration. However, this test is not infallible. Age and other health problem have been known to give false positives so this should only be used as a starting point to warrant further investigation. Another test you can do is check the gums. If they are dry or abnormally red, it is time to get concerned. Capillary refill is another test that could give you more information and is often used by vets. Gently press an area of gums above the teeth until it turns white. Release and normal color should return in 1 to 4 seconds. If your horse fails these tests, a call to your vet is in order.
Watch for Changes in Attitude and Energy Level
Of course, you should always keep a close eye on your horse’s behavior and energy level. Any significant behavioral changes can be a sign of possible health issues. A horse that usually romps in the pasture with his buddies but suddenly decides to spend a nice warm day sulking in the shelter for no apparent reason probably isn’t feeling well. Likewise, a horse that has never offered to kick who suddenly kicks the farrier probably has a health problem as opposed to a training problem.
Members of the EW Community can now download our Healthy Horse Checklist for FREE. This guide the signs to early warning signs that may alert you to a medical problem with your horse as well as some basic DIY tests you can do yourself to give your vet more information about your situation. To download to full document, click here.
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