Know the normals of your horse!
If you know anything about me, it’s that I really think two things about horses. One, horses are weird. Two, you need to know your horse’s normals. But really – what sorts of “normals” do you need to know, and in how much detail? I tend to be super specific to notice trends over time.
Here are the “normals” to check daily.
Your horse’s vital signs.
- Horses are notorious for “acting normal” until poop hits the fan. Don’t believe their BS, instead, check their vital signs daily, and if you are really into memorizing your horse, check vitals after exercise too.
- The normal temperature for a horse is 99.5 to 101.5, and for foals, up to 102 is normal.
Just do it. It’s so easy, fast, and can help your horse!
- Pulse (heart rate) is usually 24 to 40 beats per minute, although most horses are between 32 and 36. For newborn foals, 80 to 100 is normal, and for older foals, 60 to 80 is normal.
- Respiration is typically 8 to 12 breaths per minute for the adult horse, and for foals, 60-80 breaths per minute.
- Toss in their capillary refill time. This allows you to check two things – the actual capillary refill time and their hydration. Their capillary refill time gives your a clue into the circulatory system. A longer refill time indicates shock, decreased blood flow, and even heart issues. You want your horse’s gums to be slick and slimy, indicating good hydration. Damp, sticky, or dry gums indicate a problem.
- Capillary refill time is approximately 2 seconds.
Know how to check your horse’s digital pulse. It can save their life!
- And when you are picking hooves, check those digital pulses. The digital pulse is normally faint or non-existent in a sound horse. Finding a change in the digital pulse indicates an issue in the hoof. Which the pulse will usually tell you before your horse starts to limp around.
Every so often, check your horse’s weight.
- A super-fast measuring will easily give you an idea of how things are going. You might also start to see seasonal changes that affect your horse’s weight, and can help guide you in adjusting food, exercise, and even blanketing.
- It’s easy to measure your horse’s weight. Take two measurements – one goes from the point of shoulder to the point of the buttocks. For the second measurement, formally known as the heart girth measurement, wrap the tape around your horse’s barrel. Go snugly behind both elbows, and end at the highest point of the wither. Then slide your tape one inch or so towards the tail.
- Now bust out the math.
- (Girth in inches x Girth x Length) / 330 = Approximate weight in lbs.
- (Girth in centimeters x Girth x Length) / 11,900 = Approximate weight in kg.
What about your horse’s gut sounds?
- When a horse has colic, one of the first things the vet does is listen to gut sounds. When you know what they sound like regularly, you can help your vet help your horse.
- So what are these “quadrants” to listen for gut sounds? From the outside of your horse, you can think of their gut as being divided into four quadrants. Left side top and bottom, and right side top and bottom.
- The left side top corresponds to the small intestine, which is usually pretty quiet.
- The left side bottom is the large intestine.
- The right side top is the cecum and large intestine.
- The right side bottom is the large intestine.
- Your horse’s guts sound will be unique to them, and you should know what they sound like before and after meals. Using a stethoscope is safer than using your ear.
Know how to check your horse’s gut sounds. Ever. Single. Day.
Your horse’s inputs, like hay, feed, and water.
- Monitoring your horse’s hay input can be easy if you feed set amounts daily; it’s a bit harder if they eat from a round bale or is a pasture-kept horse. But you should have some idea of how much hay or pasture they eat per day. One of the most obvious things a horse does when he’s ill is to change their eating habits.
- It’s ideal if you can measure your horse’s water intake. If you use buckets, getting a good estimate is pretty easy as you refill throughout the day. I use a big muck tub that holds just under 20 gallons, so I know fairly accurately how much is consumed. The inside of the muck tub has a marker, also. Automatic waterers can also be fitted with measuring devices. From a water trough, you could have markers that indicate a fill line and can show you how much water is gone per day. I’m sure there’s also some sort of measuring device for big troughs out there?
Your horse’s outputs, like sweat, manure, and urine.
- It’s not glamorous work, but it’s necessary. Memorize your horse’s sweat, manure, and urine. Sweat is something to watch because the lack of sweat can mean two things – anhidrosis or overheating. Anhidrosis or partial anhidrosis is the inability to sweat, leading to body temperature dysfunction and creating dangerous overheating situations. If your horse has been sweating a lot, and suddenly stops sweating, that’s a sign that their body is dangerously overheated you need to get vet care pronto. Your handy thermometer can help you recognize both situations, and your vet needs to be involved for both anhidrosis and overheating.
- Your horse’s manure is hopefully something obvious you can keep track of. Horse poop is basically like Goldilocks – wet, but not too wet. Formed into fecal balls, but not too formed. Consistent color and texture, but not crazy changing all the time. Any changes from day to day should be noted, or better yet, photographed and the vet should be called if the change is drastic or your horse is showing signs of something being wrong – like colic.
Your horse’s poop is like a signature.
- It’s hard to catch your horse urinating sometimes, but you should know how it normally looks. Foamy, cloudy, and varying shades of light yellow are all totally normal. It’s also wildly important to notice and track HOW your horse urinates. This applies to volume, stance, and ease of urination. Frequent urination in small quantities can mean pain somewhere in their body, or a life-threatening urinary situation. They are rare, but they happen. It’s also entirely possible to train your horse to urinate on command. This old racehorse trick allows your horse to exercise comfortably with an empty bladder, you get to see what’s up with their urine, and it’s handy if you show and are tested.
Your horse’s behaviors – how do they normally act?
- How do they act in the stall? Do they have a favorite place to rest, look out, pee and poop? Do they pace, circle, crib, or have another vice? What about their eating behaviors – do they dunk hay, or prefer to have it in a hay net? Stalls can be stressful for horses, so know what their normal behaviors are like so you can spot the trouble.
- What are their patterns in the paddock or field? Same things here. Where do they rest, play, lay down, roll, buck around? You might also notice that they act differently when they’re with friends or alone.
Behaviors like rolling can tell you a lot about your horse’s daily habits.
- Who do they hang around with, and where are they on the herd hierarchy? This one is a biggie – especially when getting enough food and not getting beaten up. This also goes hand in hand with inspecting their body every day and checking their weight to be sure the status on the horse hierarchy isn’t causing weight gain or loss. Which may, or may not be, what they needs.
- Your horse’s sleep patterns. You might not be at the barn 24/7 watching your horse like a stalker, but you might be able to figure some things out about their sleep patterns. You might be able to find squashed shavings, or poop stains on your horse’s side or neck, or flattened paddock footing, or squished-down horse-shaped paddock patches.
- When do they sleep? You may not be able to exactly figure this one out, unless you have some awesome software or farm watch system in place. But, you might be able to see your horse’s naps. Maybe they nap at a certain time or when the sunshine is just right.
How your horse feels while being groomed, and things you notice while grooming your horse.
- This extends beyond just cleaning your horse, and into noticing what’s going on in their body. Notice how they feel in the muscles as you press on them. Flinching, or leaning in? Are they lumpy anywhere from a hive, bug bite, or cut? What about their normal itchy places? Any new itchy places?
- Get to know your horse’s skin and hair. Bald spots, sticky spots, random long hairs, rubbed places where the skin could start to become a sore, rubbed places that are calloused over. I really do mean memorize your horse. Every last hair!
- And notice how their skin and coat are overall. Have you spent one too many days scrubbing the tar out of them with 49 different shampoos, and they’re all dry? Or are their natural oils so plentiful that water beads on the coat? Hint – it should be the latter.
- How is shedding going? On schedule, ahead of schedule, or delayed? Not all horses with Cushing’s are super hairy, and not all have Cushing’s. You need a blood test, not your best guess based on their coat. But, their coat condition and shedding patterns are part of the big picture here.
YES – this seems like A LOT. An awful lot of “normals” to know for your horse. And do notice the tiny things, and the big picture, zoomed-out things. They all go together, and help you keep your horse healthy and comfortable.
This video shows you how the digital artery “works” to check your horse’s hoof health.
This video shows you how to measure the digital pulse.
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