Knowing When Your Horse is Sick

I believe that good horse care is part of being an accomplished equestrian.   I’m a fairly good horse owner “vet”.   So I can put a check mark by one step in accomplishing my dream.   Yea!!!

I’ve had the good fortune to work for and with some wonderful vets, whom have taught me a lot.  My current vet, whom I love and pray never ever retires, lets me keep lots of supplies on hand and willingly talks me through things on the phone before he comes out to the barn.    He always stress to me how important it is that horse owners know their horse.  Knowing what’s “normal” for your horse is absolutely necessary if you’re going to spot trouble early.  Here are some things to check and be familiar with:

sick horseVital Signs:  Normal horse vital signs are:  Temperature:  99 – 101 F;  Have a horse thermometer.  Tie a string through the little loop in the end so you can tie it to your horse’s tail to prevent it from dropping and breaking.  Pulse:  40 – 50 beats per minute;  Learn how to take your horse’s pulse and practice.   Respiration:  8 – 15 breaths per minute.   Learn how to count respirations and practice.    I  keep an index card with the normal values written on it in my barn.  That way, when my horse is sick, its late at night, and I’m worried, I’m not trying to remember what’s normal.

Gums: Your horse’s gums should usually be a pale pink.  Check them when you know he’s healthy to become familiar with normal color.  You can also check capillary refill time on his gum.  Push lightly on the gum, so that it turns whitish.  The normal pale pink color should return within a second or two.  Capillary refill time and the basic color of the gum both give an indication of blood circulation.

Dehydration:  Normal horses consume about 5 gallons of water a day.  Keeping an eye on your horse’s drinking habits is very important.  For example, horses can colic if they do not drink enough water.  Sometimes horses will not drink freezing cold water in the winter, which can lead to colic.  To check for potential dehydration, pinch a bit of skin on your horse’s neck.  The skin should be supple and go right back down.  Skin which stays a bit “tented” points to possible dehydration.

Tummy Sounds: a.k.a. “gut sounds“:  Put your ear to your horse’s side, right behind their last rib.  You should hear tummy rumblings.  No rumbling is a bad sign, particularly if you already suspect colic.  Make sure to listen on both sides.   Again, listen when you know your horse is healthy so you’ll know what’s normal.

Eating Habits: Does your horse dive right in to his hay and grain or is he a more leisurely eater?  Does he finish everything immediately or sort of pick over his hay for a few hours?  Knowing his regular eating habits will let you know when he’s “off his feed”.  Dropping grain out of his mouth as he chews could be a sign that he needs his teeth floated.

Gaits: Watch your horse move at the walk, trot, and canter.  If you can, have a friend lead him straight towards you and straight away from you at the walk and trot so you can observe his movements that way as well.  Catching slight lameness can be extremely difficult but (am I beginning to sound like a broken record here?) if you don’t know what’s normal, you cannot know what’s not normal!  Know if he’s stiffer on one side versus the other, if he has stifle issues, if he has a slight lameness that he warms out of, etc.

I think those are the basics.  Next week I’ll talk about what I keep in my “horse medicine cabinet”.

Nikki update:  The vet is coming out Thursday morning to look at the awful bump on his leg, which is neither better nor worse.  I lunged him yesterday and he looked sound but I still want my vet’s go ahead to put him back to work.

Danelle

(Danelle left 8 Women Dream in March of 2010 and is still working  on her dream is to become an accomplished equestrian)

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  • Danelle, the equestrian

    Thanks for all the comments!

    Alyse: I always get so confused when people call me “determined”. Its one of the last words I’d use to describe myself. All of this stuff, plus Rose Parade float and trying to figure out how to be “Den Mother” for my son’s Tiger Cub group, is just sort of what I do.

    My decision to keep Nikki is not 100% at this point. Its just the direction I’m leaning to at the moment.

    And, horse owners don’t have to know all this stuff. You can keep your horse at a barn and hope that they know it. I just think its stuff that horse owners should at least be aware of.

  • Veronica

    I never knew it took so much to have a horse. I think I will stick to my dog. Great blog.

  • Kim, the traveler

    Glad to see that you kept Nikki. Having one horse seems like having 10 kids! Good for you.

  • Alyse

    Stop stealing my thoughts Cath!

    Danelle, you are…I may be wordless! OMG!

    Ah, you are bleeping determined, and I love it! How do you do it?

    Watching you and Wendy, and all of us do what we do, I can feel like the underachieving wimp some moments.

    But, I’m am smart enough to know when I have met or have the pleasure of hanging around determined powerful people, :) and a cheese diva too!?

  • Catherine, Site Admin

    And you have time to do this, raise your kids, work, harvest grapes – no wonder you are so slim and fit! I still have to see this farm of yours…