What is a Daily Horse Health Check?
A horse health check is part of good horsemanship and should be performed daily and before working your horse. This involves a few simple observations that can be achieved during the first few moments of greeting your horse.
If your horse is not in a stall, you may want to separate him from his herd in order to get an accurate assessment. First you will want to check your horse's body language. If his head is down, he could be sleeping but it could also be a sign that he is not feeling well. Check for leg positions to see if he is holding a leg up. Normally this is a sign he is resting. If he is holding a up a front leg, he is probably lame. If he is not standing, notice if he is lying down comfortably, or is he agitated and restless.
Next notice, his ears and eyes. His ears should be forward and alert. His eyes should be bright, peaceful and content. Take note if he does not look up when you approach.
A good appetite is always a sign of a healthy horse, though most horses will eat even when not feeling well. Check to see that he is eager for his next meal and if he has finished his previous feeding. Check his water intake. All horses should drink a minimum of five gallons of water per day, preferably closer to 10 gallons.
The most important part of your daily horse health check is your horse's manure, as it will reveal a great deal about his current state of health. A healthy horse defecates 10-12 times a day. If his fecal balls are very dry and hard, he may not be drinking enough water. If they are loose, your horse's feed may be too rich. Looseness can also indicate he is consuming too much salt and water, or he has an irritation in his digestive tract. Diarrhea can be an indication of an intestinal infection or it can be the result of nerves. Slime or mucous indicate an irritated gut. If there is whole grain or fibers of hay in his manure, this can mean he is eating too fast or that he has some dental problems that need addressing. If you see worms in his manure, he is far past time for deworming.
After completing the above daily horse health check, if you have any suspicions that your horse is not feeling well, check his gut sounds. The abdomen produces sounds indicating roughage and fluids moving through the intestines. Excessive gut sounds by themselves are not a cause for concern but the absence of them could indicate a problem. Quick gurgles imply food being broken down by the intestines. Long glups signify movement through the digestive track. Listen on both sides at your horse's stomach, behind his ribs and in front of his stifle. With practice you will become familiar with what is normal for your horse.
If your suspicions continue, proceed by checking his vitals signs: temperature, pulse and respiratory rate. A slight variance in your horse's health check is no cause for alarm but should be noted. Remember that we don't always feel the same 365 days a year and we shouldn't expect our horses to. Your daily horse health check should become part of your normal routine. It is time well spent in insuring your horse's continued good health and comfort.
@Mor - We had a few horses when I was growing up as well, mostly ones that people gave away for free from the paper. My dad just loved them and we occasionally went to horse riding lessons, but mostly they were just pets.
Since they were "freebies" they almost always came in poor condition though. People get a horse for their kid and then think it will just take care of itself when the kid loses interest.
@umbra21 - We had a horse when I was a teenager that came with a big property my parents bought and his hooves had been very neglected for months, if not years. He was a race horse that had a chronic back problem so he couldn't be ridden and his previous owners had just left him to run around their property without providing any kind of care for him.
He might have looked well fed, but he limped everywhere because his hooves were all overgrown and cracked and one of them was building an infection. We got a farrier in and it took him months to fix them (because cracks don't clear up overnight).
He was such a sweet horse, too, with a very loving personality, it just breaks my heart that he was neglected like that for so long. People should not buy a horse if they aren't prepared to take care of it properly and that means constant, daily care.
Cleaning out your horse's hooves is also essential for good health, particularly if they are in a situation where they are going to be picking up debris. It's easy for people to forget that the sole of a horse's hoof is actually very sensitive and can easily become irritated or infected.
You should also have a farrier coming in regularly to pare down the hooves or shoe the horse, but every horse owner needs to know how to do a foot inspection and cleaning themselves, because it's something that needs to be done all the time.
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