Check list to help you understand what your horses body is really telling you
Head and stance
It's easy to get into a routine with horses - and before you know it, you've caught him, picked out feet, fed him and put him to bed. Being efficient is great BUT you need to always observe your horse and notice what is happening with him - early signs of a problem can be subtle so you should always have your eyes WIDE OPEN and ensure you properly process the information you are receiving!
If you ever need an excuse for just standing and observing your horse, this is it - please make time to just look at your horse! Don't think about catching him and standing him up - simply watch him, preferably when he's standing in his stable or mooching around on a hard surface. Ideally, you'll need a fairly flat even surface so that you can see whether he is standing and taking more weight on one foot or another.
These are a few things you should look for:
1. Check out your horse's head and neck. How does he hold himself? Is his headcarriage rather high? If so, it's possible he has pain in his feet, back or withers. Perhaps he holds his head low? Often horses who are unwell have a low head carriage - so check for other signs as well eg respiration, temperature, pulse. Never just assume that's the way he is - if your horse is not holding himself as he normally would, there is a reason - it's up to you to notice and if you can't figure out the reason yourself get some appropriate advice. Look at the muscular development of your horse's neck too - for instance, if he tends to go with his head too high the underside of the neck will be over-developed. Look at the development from side to side as well - ideally the muscles will be equally developed.
2. Ask someone to stand your horse up, as square as you can get your horse. If achieving a square stance is difficult, it's worth getting a reputable therapist to check your horse. This is especially so, if when you look at your horse from the front, you can see that the muscles between his front legs are not even or tend to pull up into his chest, as if something is sucking the muscles into the chest. Such issues can usually be resolved.
Right photo: This horse is standing on a slight incline in a field you can see how this mare is putting more weight through her off fore - unfortunately you often see this when the horse is actually standing on level ground!
3. When your horse is just standing, in a relaxed way, look at your horse from in front, from the side and from behind. Does he tend to stand with his front or hind legs particularly close together or much further apart that you might expect? Does he always insist on standing with one front leg in front of the other? Horses in discomfort will change their posture to ease some of the discomfort they are experiencing, while problems with the foot balance or pain within the foot or back, can also mean that they change their normal stance.
4. Correct foot balance and care in your horse is vital - the saying 'no foot, no horse' is very true. It's important that your horse is shod regularly - going for 10-12 weeks in between shoeing sessions is not sensible (think around 6 weeks, 8 weeks at the most).
In addition to regular shoeing your horse needs good quality farriery - many farriers are good but others are not, so it's vital you learn about good and bad shoeing so you have a clear idea of what you should expect. The quality of your horse's diet will also affect his hoof quality so if your horse's feet are crumbly or flaky do take advantage of the free nutritional advice offered by feed companies.
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