Horse Health

Learn how to take your horse’s vital signs: This is from the University of Minnesota Equine Extension Service:

Here’s another, from the Certified Horsemanship Association:

Record this information on this downloadable chart from Farnam:

You need a First Aid Kit, and just as important, you need how to use it. In general, the kits you can purchase online or at a tack store are excellent and probably cheaper than buying items individually.  If you want to go through the effort of building you own, here are a few suggestions:

If you can, get a veterinarian or vet tech to teach some basic first aid. There are several videos online. This one from Pretty Pony Pastures demonstrates some basic treatments:

This one from the University of New Hampshire, demonstrates one of the most common problems: cleaning and bandaging a wound.

From Equestrian Life, here’s advice on first aid on the trail.

It’s a good idea to keep a first aid handbook available. Perhaps the best is Dr. Kellon’s Guide to First Aid for Horses by Eleanor Kellon, DVM. It is particularly well-laid out and color-coded cross reference with definitions, symptoms, possible causes, and treatment. If you have a VCR (!!) there is a video companion, but there is no DVD.

Other books:

The Horse Health Bible by Colin Vogel

The Complete Guide to Horse Care by The Humane Society of the United States

These are situations when you must call the veterinarian. In many cases, you can video the wound or the horse’s condition and send that to the veterinarian which helps with diagnosis and treatment.

➤ A broken limb.

➤ Colic. Learn the symptoms—they can develop very quickly and dramatically or be quite subtle.

➤ Choke. This happens when food gets caught in the horse’s esophagus. It generally does not block the breathing passages, so you don’t need to learn an equine Heimlich maneuver, but the horse cannot drink or swallow until the obstruction is removed.

➤ Heavy bleeding from an injury.

➤ A foreign object protruding from the horse. (Do not remove it.)

➤ Injury or wound near eyes, tendons, or genitals.

➤ Any issue concerning the eye—can’t open it, cut on eyelid, pus or discharge.

➤ Severe lameness or unsoundness—the horse can’t put weight on the limb.

➤ Staggering or other signs of lack of coordination or confusion.

➤ Excessive, continuous, watery diarrhea.

➤ Fever.

➤ Rapid pulse at rest.

➤ Rapid breathing at rest.

➤ Heatstroke.

➤ Multiple animals showing the same symptoms.

➤ Pregnant mare not delivering after 20 minutes of lab

Power of Attorney: You must make sure that someone can authorize medical treatment for your horse if you cannot. Find someone you trust and discuss the possibilities. Include the quality of life, extent of any medical care, how much you can spend on care, and when to make the decision to euthanize your horse. You should also have this conversation with your veterinarian. The veterinarian can face legal troubles if she performs any procedure without your approval. Complete a Power of Attorney form; keep a copy for yourself and give copies to the other person named on the form and your veterinarian.

You should also carry a Power of Attorney with you whenever your travel that allows any veterinarian called to a scene of an accident or any other situation in which you cannot voice your desires to treat your horse.

You can download Power of Attorney forms here:


No one likes to think about making the decision to put your horse down. A Canadian survey showed that 80% of horse owners have no plans for end-of-life decisions for their horses and refuse to consider making them. We might hope that our horses will just quietly lie down and slip away in their sleep, but that’s not the case. Only 1 in 8 horses dies of natural causes. The rest are euthanized, either electively or in an emergency.

People often want to wait until the last possible moment before making the decision. While that may temporarily protect you from the inevitable emotional pain, your first responsibility is to your horse.

The Canadian National Farm Animal Care Council has the Five Freedoms for Quality of Life for Animals. These guidelines pose the questions you must ask when you horse is failing.

· Freedom from hunger and thirst

· Freedom from discomfort

· Freedom from pain and disease

· Freedom to express natural behavior

· Freedom from fear and distress

In addition, the American Association of Equine Practitioners have four points that are weighed:

A horse should not have to endure the following:

· Continuous or unmanageable pain from a condition that is chronic and incurable.

· A medical condition or surgical procedure that has a poor prognosis for a good quality of life.

· Continuous analgesic medication and/or box stall confinement for the relief of pain for the rest of its life.

· An unmanageable medical or behavioral condition that renders it a hazard to itself or its handlers.


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