Routine Health Checks For Your Horse By J. Foley
As a matter of routine, every horse should be closely observed and checked daily for signs of
injury and ill health. Physical signs and changes in behavior should be viewed in combination,
and considered against what is normal for the individual horse concerned.
Heart or pulse rate, body temperature and respiration frequency (breathing) should be
observed at rest, to determine normal levels for each individual horse. Heart and breathing
rates vary depending on the age and fitness of the individual, being higher in foals and old
horses, and in those that are unfit. In addition, rates naturally increase significantly during
exercise and gradually return to normal as the horse recovers – the fitter the horse, the quicker
rates will return to normal.
Changes to the normal vital signs, observed at rest, are often key indicators of pain or illness.
Normal ranges at rest are as follows.
• Heart or pulse rate of 36 to 42 beats per minute (beats should be clear and regular in
strength and frequency)
• Temperature of approximately 38°C (slight variations are normal in response to
environmental conditions and ambient temperature)
• Respiration rate of eight to 12 breaths per minute (breaths should be quiet and regular in
both depth and frequency)
Ears, eyes and nose
A healthy horse is naturally inquisitive,
alert and responsive to its environment.
Ears should be either pricked up, flicking
backwards and forwards, or when the
horse is resting, held softly forward or to
each side. Eyes should be bright and
clear with a pale pink colour to the skin.
The nose should be clean and the
breathing steady and regular at rest.
Abnormal aggression, evasion, disinterest
or lethargy may indicate that something
is wrong. A head held low or pressed into
a dark corner of the shelter or stable, with
ears clenched back, may indicate more
serious ill health or pain.
Thick nasal discharge from one or both
nostrils and congested or weeping eyes
are also indicators of ill health.
Routine care of your horse should
include regular cleansing of the eyes and
nostrils with fresh water, using separate
Skin and coat
A horse’s skin should be supple and soft,
with a natural elasticity. The coat should be
smooth and shiny. Dry, flaky skin, a dull
coat with hairs raised or excessive grease,
can indicate an underlying health problem.
Regular grooming assists in maintaining
good coat and skin condition, and can
promote good circulation.
Article Written By J. Foley