There are many different ways in which your horse tells you that all is not well in his world!
It's vital that you know what is normal behaviour for your horse and what needs further investigation. It's always fascinating to see how many people just do not seem to really notice the changes in their horse! We have come across people who cannot recognise that their horse is obviously lame and others who are not worried when their horses are displaying signs of colic.
Once you know what you are looking for it really doesn't take long to ascertain whether your horse is feeling well or not. All it takes is to look and to really see what is in front of you! Having seen, you then need to know what to do!
Here are a few indicators of what to look for in your stabled horse:
When you first go to your horse does he greet you in the normal way? Is he looking out, showing an interest in what is going on? Sometimes, you may get to the stables and your horse is still 'in bed' ie lying down. If that's the case, does he act as normal? Remember all horses are different, some may get up straight away and come and say hello whilest others are quite happy to stay lying down, and let you give them a fuss while they are relaxing!
It's important that you know how your horse reacts - and if he doesn't react in his normal way just note it and see whether there are any other signs that things might be amiss. For instance, does his bed look as it normally does? Or has he obviously been getting up and down a lot, disturbing his bedding more than normal? Has he eaten his hay and consumed the normal amount of water? Is there the usual amount of wet and soiled bedding or is there more or less? Does his urine look or smell different?
1.If your horse's drinking pattern has changed and there are changes in his urine it is worth discussing this with your vet as such changes could mean there are internal problems or a blood disorder.
If your horse seems to be off colour it's worth checking your horses vital signs ie temperature, pulse and respiration and monitoring him closely - you can always speak to your vet on the phone too.
2. Hopefully you will know how your horse moves in his box, how easy he finds it to lie down and get up and to move across when asked. If your horse isn't moving too well it could indicate problems. For instance, if he can't get up easily it's possible he has back or limb difficulties; if he finds it difficult to move across when asked he could be feeling pain eg in his feet or pelvis. Do take any opportunity to see how your horse lies down and gets up again - if he doesn't lie down much perhaps he has trouble co-ordinating his movement. Assuming that your horse has a decent bed - it is unfair to give your horse inadequate bedding - how would you like to sleep night after night on just a hard board?
3. Devote a little time and observe how your horse spends time in his stable. Does he, for instance, tend to stand resting his hindquarters against a wall of the stable, or standing with his hind end up on the banks of his bedding? If so, he's trying to say that he is experiencing some discomfort or pain in his pelvis and hind limbs. If one day you find him standing all tucked up you should know that he's feeling pain, possibly internally. Perhaps he stands rather stretched out? If so, he'll need his back checking as this is a sign of pain in the back. Always check how he is standing - for instance, pointing a toe is not usual and indicates pain in the foot.
4. Your horse will be eating hay and short feed in his box. Remember that if you feed from the floor, rather than having haynets suspended, or having feed mangers at chest height, your horse will be imitating a more natural method of feeding. Feeding on the floor also helps the alignment of your horse's teeth. If you suspect any problems with eating - or see problems such as your horse quidding his feed - then get him checked with the first port of call normally being an equine dental technician.
5. You might think that your horse has certain behavioural traits just because that's the way he is. Well, a lot of 'behavioural problems' arise because of pain or management problems. For instance, if your horse hates having his rugs put on or taken off it's worth checking that the rugs do actually fit properly! Imagine if you had to wear clothes which constantly pinched you - you'd soon be pretty miserable! If your horse hates his rugs so much that he tries to tear them off it's worth getting his spine and soft tissues checked as irritation here may be contributing to the problem.
How does your horse take to his feet being picked out? Hopefully he'll be fine - if he's not it's possible he has pain in his back, pelvis or shoulder or he has balance problems. Is your horse constantly rubbing his legs against the stable door or his manger? This could indicate inflammation, foot or pelvic pain.
6. It's quite common to see horses retreating to the back of their stables when their owners appear with their tack. It's possible that the saddle doesn't fit - sadly more common than a lot of people realise - or the horse feels some pain when ridden eg in back, in feet. Whatever the cause, it's perhaps not surprising that the horse says he's not happy about being tacked up. Unfortunately many owners seem to ignore such signals!
7. If your horse is very stressy in his stable it could be that he is rather claustrophobic or that he is just not used to being stabled. If he tends to rush through the doorway it's likely that in the past he's caught himself on the door frame and has hurt himself.
The good thing about taking the time to notice your horse's reactions is that you'll feel great if everything is well and normal - and if your horse has a problem you'll be able to do something about it. Remember that your horse cannot do his job if he feels awful - and the only way he has of telling you he's off-colour is through his behaviour- so please listen to him!!!
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