Every day, you should give your horse a visual check and ideally, you should run your hands over it to check for swellings, heat or other problems that indicate an illness or injury. While grooming is a good time to do this. A stethoscope and thermometer should be part of your grooming and first-aid kit. You should learn to use them before a problem arises. While you practice, you’ll learn your horse’s normal pulse, temperature and respiration. Here’s what you’ll be looking for to give your horse a quick health check.
Your horse’s eyes should look clear and bright. It’s normal for there to be a slight tearing, but if the eyes are very runny or there is blood in the tears, it’s cause for concern. The eyelid should be fully open and there shouldn't be any puffiness. Any cloudy patches in the eye indicate an injury or other problem. The eyes shouldn’t look glassy. And, a fixed stare or sunken eye indicate a problem.
A horse’s pulse—the rate of the heart in one minute, should be very close to 68 beats. If the horse has been exercising hard, it should return to near normal levels. If the pulse remains elevated after about 20 minutes, it indicates the horse is in distress. If the pulse is high, and the animal has not been working, that too, indicates a problem.
Your horse needs to drink five to ten gallons of water every day. The amount varies depending on the activity level, air temperature and type of food it eats. A horse that eats hay will need more water than one that eats grass. Hot weather or work that makes a horse sweat will increase its water needs. Becoming dehydrated is a very serious problem for a horse. There are a few tests you can use to see if your horse is adequately hydrated; the capillary refill test, skin pinch test and jugular refill test and checking the mucous membranes.
Mucous Membrane Check
Checking your horse’s mucous membrane involves looking at and feeling your horse’s gums. They should feel moist and be a nice pink color. If they are dry, tacky, greyish, red, yellowish or purplish, your horse may be dehydrated or have a health problem. Checking the mucous membranes is often followed by a capillary refill test.
Notice too, that any discharge from your horse’s nose is normal. Watery, or very slightly cloudy mucous is normal. Yellow, green and thick is a sign of a problem.
For the capillary refill test, put a thumbprint on your horse’s gums just above the front teeth. Be careful not to press your nail in. The spot where you've pressed will blanch out, leaving a white thumbprint. Time how long it takes for the spot to return to its normal pinkish color.
Skin Pinch Test
To do a skin pinch test pick up a pinch of skin on the horse’s shoulder or neck, then let it go. It should smooth out in less than two seconds. If the skin stays ‘tented’ longer than that, your horse is dehydrated.
The jugular refill test is a little trickier to do. First you have to locate the horse’s jugular vein located in the groove that runs along the underside of the neck. Place your thumb in that groove where it begins at the top of the neck and run it firmly to about 2/3 of the way down. The goal is to squeeze the blood out of the vein. Watch how quickly the vein inflates with blood again. If it takes more than three seconds, the horse is dealing with a problem.
Ideally, your horse’s gut is a noisy place, full of rumblings and grumblings. With a stethoscope, you should hear a noise about every fifteen minutes. When your horse is healthy this is a good time to learn what those sounds are like, so you can tell if there is any change, such as dripping or pinging sounds. And, if there is no sound at all, that is quite serious.
In addition to gut sounds, your horse should be pooping and urinating normally. Runny poop, dark colored urine, or any other change from normal should be taken as a sign of a health problem.
Body and Legs
Your horse’s muscles should be pain free. Run your fingers along your horse’s back, and over any large muscles to check for soreness. You might find heat or tightness, or your horse might react when you check a specific area. Check your horse’s skin for signs of parasites or rashes.
The sheath and anal area of your horse are places you want to remain tight. If either are relaxed and loose, not including a gelding or stallion that is dropped for a short time, it’s cause for concern.
Check your horse’s legs, back, girth area and everywhere else for wounds. Even small wounds like cuts or punctures can be a big deal if they’re not treated right.
Your horse’s gait can two indications of its health. First there is soundness. Your horse shouldn’t be limping, refusing to put weight on a leg or foot, or stumbling. These can indicate an injury or a neurological problem. And, impulsion can indicate how fatigued a horse is. Fatigue can indicate illness or overwork.
It’s important to know your horse’s temperature, and this is best found using an anal thermometer. A raised temperature can indicate distress or illness.
The average respiration of a horse is about 8 to 12 breaths per minute. This will increase with work. If the horse is panting, or breathing heavily, or there are odd noise like wheezing or grunting it could indicate a problem.
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