A horse's health lies in his owner's hands - but if the owner isn't sure what is normal for a horse, how can they know whether their horse is well or in the early stages of a problem? Just getting to know a few basics about your horse will help you to recognize the first signs if your horse's health starts to deteriorate.
  1. General outlook - healthy horses will take an interest in their surroundings so whenever you see your horse in the stable or field check that he is behaving normally - whatever that might mean for him. If he seems out of sorts, check further. His body condition should be good.

    HA1050Bob Atkins
  2. Know what your horse's usual temperature, respiration and pulse rates are so that if you think something is amiss you have something to compare against. The usual rates are: Temperature 37.7 -38.6 degrees C; Respiration 8-12 even, regular breaths per minute when the horse is at rest; Pulse 35-40 beats per minute in the horse at rest.

    HA2178Bob Atkins
  3. Coat & skin - the coat should lie flat and have a certain amount of sheen to it. An obvious difference in coat occurs in animals suffering from Cushing's Disease where the coat is curly. The skin should be loose over the underlying tissue. Remember that the coat is the mirror of the health of the body.

    HA2183Bob Atkins
  4. Eyes - these should look bright and the membranes should be pale salmon pink in colour.
  5. Limbs - make a habit of feeling your horse's legs before and after working him so that you can feel if any lumps or bumps appear or if any areas show unexpected heat.

    HA2060Bob Atkins
  6. Urine & droppings - make a point of checking your horse regularly as his urine should be virtually colourless and while the colour and consistency of droppings will vary according to the horse's diet, they should not smell offensive and should be moist.
  7. Teeth - your horse should have his teeth checked by an equine dental technician - every six months for younger horses and every year for the veterans. 

Variations from the normal signs

  1. General outlook - sick animals may appear listless or be restless and look uncomfortable eg in colic cases.
  2. Their usual rates change - for instance, a rise of two to three degrees in temperature often means pain; pulse rates up to 50 beats per minute may mean pain although above this usually indicates fever. An irregular heart beat is indicative of heart trouble. In a resting horse, a respiratory rate of 20 or more per minute is significant.

    HA2092Bob Atkins
  3. Coat & skin - if a horse or pony suffers from malnutrition his coat is likely to be staring or on end. Tight skin is also a symptom of malnutrition.  If a horse is in a cold sweat this could be because of acute physical pain whereas hot sweats indicate fever.
  4. Eyes - the colour of the membranes is significant - for instance yellow membranes indicate liver disorder while deep red membranes denote fevers.
  5. Limbs - the arrival or heat or swelling in an area may lead to lameness.
  6. Urine & droppings - problems with parasites can change the consistency of droppings while thick cloudy urine could be an indicator of a digestive issue or kidney trouble.

    HA2208Bob Atkins

  7. Teeth - watch your horse eating hay, grass and short feed - if he appears to struggle or is leaving food in 'balls' there may be some dental defect.  Horses whose teeth are not attended to regularly can have very painful mouths. Things too look out for with your horses teeth Read more 

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